September 1, 2014

SFFF files suit against state; GE joins

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com

Attorneys for Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF), a lobbying group that successfully sued for additional school funding in 2006, has filed a new lawsuit against the state. The group, which includes Gardner Edgerton USD 231, alleges that Kansas public schools are not being funded adequately and are denying Kansas children the right to an education.

The case was filed in Shawnee District Court in Topeka. Chief Judge of the Kansas Court of Appeals, Gary Rulon, will assign a three-judge panel to hear the case.

The lawsuit does not ask that Kansas’ existing school finance formula be scrapped, however, John Robb, one of the two attorneys representing SFFF, said in a press release that the current formula needs to be fully funded.

“Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The formula doesn’t need to be abandoned in some smoke and mirrors, illusory change. No formula will work if it is not adequately funded,” Robb said.

Attorneys filed the suit on Nov. 2, but Robb said there was no ulterior motive behind an election day filing. By state statute, the organization could not file a suit against the state legislature without issuing notice and waiting a prescribed number of days.

SFFF filed notice of intent to sue in June, and the filing deadline passed on Oct. 15.

“It then took just a certain amount of time to get it in the right form to get it filed,” he said.

The suit specifically alleges that four Kansas school districts – Wichita, Kansas City, Hutchinson and Dodge City – and 32 representative students within them are being denied an adequate education.

Only four districts are listed in the actual lawsuit, but there are 63 Kansas school districts funding the lawsuit. In 2010, each of the 63 districts, paid dues to SFFF of $3.20 per student. For the GE District, that translated into approximately $16,000 in membership fees.

That money will be used to finance the lawsuit. So far, SFFF funds have been used to pay the attorneys’ hourly rates.

Robb said he would hate to hazard an estimate of the number of attorney hours he’s billed in the case. He charges $175 per hour. Alan Rupe, the other lead attorney on the case charges more. Associate attorneys charge less.

“It’s been substantial,” Robb said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of groundwork in getting the suit to this point. The facts in an education lawsuit – it’s not a single fact like in an accident where the facts are kind of limited…You have to deal with school funding, pupil weighting, mill levies, property taxes, student achievements, harmed students. It’s been an ongoing effort for a couple of years. That will continue. That’s part of what makes these very costly lawsuits, because they cover boxes and boxes and boxes of data.”

The 2006 lawsuit filed by the organization was settled in 2006. That year, the legislature adopted a three-year school funding plan that gradually bumped school funding up statewide by $775 million.

However, state legislators have since cut $303 million in school funding.
According to Robb, state legislator intentionally cut state revenues and then plead poverty.

“This trainwreck was certainly foreseeable,” he said in a press release.
Rupe said Kansas school children should not have to go to court every few years for adequate funding.

“Our kids’ future is too important to sit back while the state chronically underfunds the schools,” Rupe said. “Litigation has been responsible for every other increase in school funding, and it looks like, unfortunately, it is necessary again.”

Comments

  1. I will repeat my comments from an earlier article:

    Judith says:
    November 2, 2010 at 4:48 pm
    Well, USD 231 School Dist. can take their highest school tax mill levy in the whole state for numerous years and this lawsuit, USD 231 Dist. being the only school district in Johnosn County to be a part of this, and put both of them in their back pocket as far as I am concerned.

    A little over a week ago I sent an e-mail to Mr. Gilhaus of USD School Dist. 231 requesting to know the number of dropouts we have had for each of the past 5 years and to be advised of how many kids we have in alt school right now.

    Education has always been a priority for me and I feel education of our citizens will help them more than about anything I can think of. I have supported education and its costs my whole life. So naturally the dropout rate and knowing how many kids are going to alt school would very much interest me and I automatically thought my own school district would be more than happy to answer my questions on these two items.

    Well, Mr. Gilhaus told me he would answer my questions but it will COST me. He advised I would have to pay $15 per hour for research time and then a copy charge of $.25 per copy. He advised I could possibly be looking at 8 to 10 hours of research time to just answer the question on dropouts which would amount to between $120 to $150. He did advise the number of students in alt school which is 23 Seniors and 11 Juniors.

    I went back to Mr. Gilhaus advising I would think he would apply some common sense to this issue and asked him to get back to me on this and I gave the School Board a carbon copy of that e-mail. In the meantime I send an e-mail to the School Board asking them if I came to one of the Board Meetings and asked this question about dropouts, they would be telling me they would be charging for the answer to that question. Mr. Ragan, President of the School Board, with a carbon copy to the other Board members, advised I would have to pay these charges.

    Well, then my ole brain that evidently was in a slowdown mode, came alive and it told me this dropout rate surely is reported to the state each year and this information should have been readily available to Mr. Gilhaus by these reports he gives to the state. I then called the Kansas Dept. of Education and spoke to a person in the statistical department and that person advised me USD 231 School Dist. most definitely reports this dropout information to their department every year and is required to do so. The reporting period is Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 of the following year. They then showed me where I could get this information off of their website and based on the information submitted by USD 231 School Dist. here is the dropout rate for the past 5 years:

    2004-2005 4 Dropouts
    2005-2006 5 Dropouts
    2006-2007 6 Dropouts
    2007-2008 30 Dropouts
    2008-2009 38 Dropouts

    Aren’t you glad I am giving you this information for free rather than being charged $120 to $150 by your school district.

    I hope you can understand how I feel about this whole scenario. Back in 2006 Tom Mertz, a past president of USD 231 School Dist., advised me he was not concerned with kids dropping out of school since WE need more unskilled labor. I find this Board to be no more ethical and I really don’t think dropouts are at the top of their priority list nor do they really care about citizen support as evidenced by their arrogant handling of my simple question – that is my opinion.

    So citizens, you might want to think about this and come to your own conclusions. Does your school district administration and School Board work for you or are you merely an ATM machine for them? Lots of good teachers in this district and other employees but I am not going along with this bull hockey treatment of a citizen. I will now work even harder for the combining of the Spring Hill, Gardner/Edgerton and DeSoto school districts which to me would reduce costs and eliminate administrators and School Boards that operate in this manner because I don’t deserve them.

  2. In my opinion this school district and school districts across Kansas need to start SUING city councils and county commissioners on all of the sweet deals being given to biz and developers which results in milions and millions and millions of lost school tax dollars.

    On the Coleman warehouse the citizens will lose over a half million dollars in tax revenue just for the year of 2010 and most of the lost tax dollars are for our schools. And this will go on for another 9 years. Similiar loss of school tax dollars were involved in the Kimberly-Clark handout which the school district did not object to and if you are familiar with the huge profits this company makes, then I would think you would question why they can’t pay their full tax dollars as the average citiezen does for the needs of the community. Lee Metcalfe with the County said the school district did not object to the Kimberly-Clark sweet deal and on the day when the Commissioners voted on this issue, Annabeth Surbaugh, Chairman of the Commissioners, stated that if the school district was not there to object, then she saw no reason why the incentive should not be given. Citizens, do you think your school district has been doing their job to protect your interests?

    Keep in mind what the city of Edgerton did on the 75% tax incentive they gave to the Allen Group involving $500 MILLION properties. Have you computed how many millions of lost school dollars are involved in that just that one financial raping of the people. And what did your school district do to object to that handout – you might want to contact the city of Edgerton for the answer to that one.

    I think these school districts are suing the wrong entities and I don’t think they are protecting the taxpaying citizens as they could.

  3. And for those who say those incentives are needed to bring jobs then I say these jobs are low-paying, hire and fire jobs that will do very little for the citizens overall and social costs for taxpayers result from jobs such as these and even more costs for the taxpayers due to astronomical infrastructure and medical costs involved. To me this isn’t economic development – it is economic raping of the citizens. A true example of privatizing gains and socializing costs and losses.

  4. Big deep breath Judith. :)

  5. I don’t need to take a deep breath – I just need to stretch my fingers so I can keep on keying………………..

  6. You go girl!

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