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Archive for Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Plaintiffs want special monitor for school funding

Dodge City, Salina districts ask judge to appoint special master

March 3, 2004

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— Attorneys for two school districts that sued the state over education funding want a special master appointed to oversee the Kansas school-finance system if the Legislature does not make major changes this year.

In documents filed in Shawnee County District Court, attorneys for the Dodge City and Salina districts urged that the state spend $1.03 billion per year on public schools beyond the $2.6 billion now distributed.

If the Legislature fails to adopt that remedy or something similar, District Judge Terry Bullock should appoint a special master to monitor lawmakers' progress on school-finance issues, the districts said.

The documents were filed Monday, which was the deadline set by Bullock for the plaintiffs to propose revisions in the school-finance law. The state has until April 1 to respond.

Atty. Gen. Phill Kline planned to issue a statement later, a spokesman said.

Bullock in December issued a preliminary order in the two school districts' 1999 lawsuit, agreeing with their contention that the state spends too little money each year on elementary and secondary education and distributes the aid unfairly. The judge gave the governor and legislators until July 1 to come up with a remedy.

A special master would keep Bullock informed of the Legislature's actions toward satisfying his ruling and file a final report by Dec. 15 that would include recommendations for further changes in the school-finance law.

Bullock, in his preliminary order, suggested the state might need to spend as much as $1 billion more to provide a suitable education for every child.

The attorneys for the districts said that if the Legislature fails to act by July 1, "We propose a special master be appointed immediately."

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has proposed an increase in state taxes on sales, property and personal income over three years, to raise $304 million for school districts. But the Senate rejected that measure last week.

Friday, Sebelius signed a bill allowing for a direct appeal of Bullock's ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court before he makes it final. The law takes effect Thursday, when it is published in the Kansas Register. Kline was expected to file his request for appeal shortly thereafter.

Without the new law, Kline would have to wait until either Bullock issues a final order or until he agrees to allow the case to move forward. The judge has refused twice to let the case move on, in December and again Friday.

In their brief, the plaintiffs called the new law another delay tactic designed to buy legislators more time.

"Underlying this reasoning is the simple and unavoidable issue of legislative self-preservation -- any tax increase may directly affect the polls come November."

The plaintiffs proposed remedy calls for a 15 percent increase in income taxes, increasing the state sales tax to 6.3 percent from 5.3 percent and increasing the statewide mill levy on property taxes to 35 mills from 20 mills. A mill is tax of $1 per $1,000 assessed valuation.

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