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School funding still in state of flux

Staff writer

Although Gov. Sam Brownback last week signed a school funding bill designed to satisfy an earlier Kansas Supreme Court mandate to properly fund schools or shut them down July 1, county schools remain in limbo.

Lee Leiker, superintendent of USD 408, said the Supreme Court, which has ordered the attorney general to file a brief in Gannon v Kansas by April 18, has put the bill on a fast track for hearing. Attorneys for the plaintiffs must file a response by April 28.

The lawsuit was filed in 2010 by a group of school districts who alleged legislators hadn’t made “suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.”

Arguments will be heard on May 10, Leiker said.

If the bill passes judicial muster, schools will remain open. If the Supreme Court rules against the bill, school districts could be shut down July 1.

The eventual court ruling will determine whether the revised funding bill satisfies the court’s earlier mandate to adequately fund Kansas schools.

The funding bill the governor signed would provide USD 408 the same amount of funding as last year, Leiker said. The district’s general fund budget for the 2015-2016 school year is $4.98 million. Some districts would get funding increases under the bill Brownback signed.

“We really won’t know until the Supreme Court rules,” Leiker said. “So we can’t really start negotiations.”

Unless the Supreme Court issues a decision within days of the hearing, the school district’s faculty negotiations will spill into the summer.

“Negotiations typically begin in May and we are usually completed with them prior to the end of the school year, which is near the end of May,” Leiker said.

Ron Traxson, superintendent of USD #398, said the biggest possible effect of the situation is potential school closure.

“How it will affect us directly is if they shut down the school in July,” Traxson said. “It’s really like the last couple years, you don’t know if you’re going to get money or not.”

Districts that are gaining attendance are in a bigger bind than districts that are seeing stable enrollment, Traxson said.

“The bottom line is that the bill did not address the issues that the court said to address,” Traxson said.

USD 410 Superintendent Steve Noble said, “We certainly can’t plan now. Right now, we’re going to assume we’ll have flat funding for next year with no increase. It’s important to note it’s really a decrease for our budget because our expenses will go up with no additional money — our expenses will go up with doing exactly the same things as we do now.”

USD 411 Superintendent John Fast doubts the legislature’s measure will pass muster with the Supreme Court.

“It’s a shell game within a shell game, moving funds around to allow for school funding, but for state aid districts, it’s not fair,” Fast said. “The bill shifts the tax burden back onto the locals. I don’t think that courts will approve it. It’s hard to tell right now, but I do not think that the governor’s proposal will fix the problem.”

Last modified April 13, 2016

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