Archive for Thursday, June 9, 2005

Basehor-Linwood school chief pleased by ruling

June 9, 2005

Jill Hackett was pleased to hear Friday that the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to provide more money for Kansas schools.

But Hackett, the superintendent for Basehor-Linwood USD 458, isn't celebrating just yet.

"I'm cautiously pleased," she said. "Cautiously, in that there are a lot of questions that have to be answered and decisions that have to be made, and they're questions that are more in the hands of the Legislature at this time."

The court rejected House Bill 2247, saying the legislation -- which recommended increasing state funds by $142 million and allowing districts to increase local taxes by 5 percent -- was based on politics rather than a legitimate cost study and, thus, still failed to provide adequate funding for Kansas children's public education. Judges also said the bill would increase disparity among school districts.

The court said the amount of state aid suggested in Bill 2247 should be doubled, adding that lawmakers must implement a minimum increase of $285 million more than the 2004-05 school year amount by July 1.

"It is clear that the Legislature did not consider what it costs to provide a constitutionally adequate education, nor the inequities created and worsened by H.B. 2247," justices wrote. "H.B. 2247's increased dependence on local property taxes, as decided by each school district, exacerbates disparities based on district wealth."

Hackett said the way that money was distributed would determine how helpful it would be for the Basehor-Linwood district, and others.

She said increasing base state aid per pupil would be more equitable and beneficial for schools than forcing districts to rely on local funds.

"We are in dire need of more support at the state level," the superintendent said. "Our greatest request is that there would be an increase in the state aid per pupil."

Friday's school finance decision by the Kansas Supreme Court came as no shock to Robert Van Maren, superintendent for Bonner Springs/Edwardsville USD 204.

Van Maren said he thought the court's direction was clear when it issued an opinion in January and that it was clear the Legislature's response wasn't adequate.

"Quite honestly, it wasn't a surprise based on the previous ruling by the Supreme Court," he said. "We've just been kind of waiting for them to come back and say it again."

Van Maren said if the Legislature followed through with the court's orders, it would be good for Bonner Springs and Edwardsville schools.

"I'm heartened by the fact that everything that we knew should happen has happened," he said.

Both Hackett and Van Maren said increasing staff pay would be a priority use for any additional money.

"One of our top priorities would be to increase, substantially increase, the salaries for our employees," Hackett said.

Van Maren said his district's teachers had been disadvantaged because of the tight budget situation for several years.

"Myself and the board were extremely tired of cutting people even though the district was growing," he said. "We didn't give a raise here last year."

For the Basehor-Linwood and Bonner Springs/Edwardsville schools, being forced to rely on the local option budget, or LOB, would have been far from optimal, the superintendents said.

Van Maren explained that without having a high assessed valuation, the area would need a high mill levy to raise substantial funds.

In its opinion, the court wrote that districts should be able to rely on state dollars and use local money for enhancements, not the other way around.

"School districts have been forced to use the LOB to supplement the state's funding as they struggle to suitably finance a constitutionally adequate education, a burden which the constitution places on the state, not on local districts," the Court said. "The result is wealth based disparity because districts with lower property valuations and median incomes are unable to generate sufficient revenue."

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said a special session of the Legislature would be needed to decide how the state would comply with the court's orders and set the date for June 22.

She admonished lawmakers for failing to produce an acceptable plan.

"Today, the Legislature's inability to fulfill its obligation to Kansas students has finally come home to roost," the governor said in a statement on Friday. "Still, I am relieved that the Legislature, after six years of wrangling, has been given another opportunity to find a real solution for funding our schools. We need to act in the best interests of Kansas children and their parents, above all else, and we cannot afford more legislative irresponsibility."

In January, following a lawsuit by several districts in Western Kansas, the Court ruled that the Kansas Legislature was not allocating adequate funds to provide public school students with a suitable education, a violation of the state constitution. Legislators presented their solution to the problem in House Bill 2247.

Hackett said schools were on the threshold of another school year and needed to prepare.

"Like any other district in the state of Kansas at this time, the timing of this decision is critical," she said. "We're just waiting. It's kind of a wait and see game at this time

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