Archive for Friday, April 29, 2005

Board of ed meeting to discuss lawsuit

Executive session underscores gap between moderates, conservatives

April 29, 2005


The Kansas Board of Education will have an emergency meeting Sunday to talk about the school finance lawsuit now being weighed by the state Supreme Court.

And the quick summoning of the board by its chairman, Steve Abrams, is once again underscoring the gap between conservatives who control the board and moderates who are at odds with fellow members over evolution and other issues.

"There's only one thing on the agenda," for Sunday, said board president Steve Abrams, "and that's 'attorney-client privilege' to discuss the school finance lawsuit now before the (Kansas) Supreme Court."

The meeting will be in executive session, which means the public and press will be excluded from most of the discussion.

Some board members said they suspected their conservative colleagues were working with Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, a fellow conservative Republican, to backpedal on the board's position on the school finance issue, which was presented earlier this week in filings by the board's attorney with the high court.

Attorney Dan Biles argued on behalf of the board that parts of the Legislature's response to the school-finance lawsuit widened inequities within the formula.

In an earlier interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal, Abrams said Biles' analysis was "more negative than I personally feel."

The legislative plan, passed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, would increase state spending for K-12 schools by more than $125 million and authorize millions more in optional local spending.

"I don't see how we can do that," said board member Carol Rupe, a moderate Republican from Wichita. "We've made it clear -- up to now, anyway -- that we see the $125 million as a small step in the right direction, but we're against the provisions that make the rich districts richer."

Rupe said she had heard reports that Abrams called the emergency meeting after a conversation with Kline and that Kline had encouraged Abrams to direct Biles to file a brief more favorable to the Legislature's plan.

"I know (Kline) was trying to get our phone numbers, I know he got through to some board members, and I know that, all of sudden, they've changed their tone," Rupe said.

Kline has said the Legislature's spending package adequately addresses issues raised in the lawsuit.

Abrams, a veterinarian from Arkansas City, said Thursday that he and Kline had spoken earlier in the month. But the conversation, he said, did not prompt his calling the meeting.

Whitney Watson, a spokesman for Kline's office, confirmed that Kline had called Abrams for the purpose of "comparing notes -- the deadline for filing the briefs was approaching. He wanted the board to know AG's position and he was interested in theirs."

Watson said Kline had not spoken with Abrams since the briefs were filed Monday.

Abrams said he scheduled the meeting for Sunday afternoon after learning that seven of the 10 board members would be in Topeka for a banquet honoring outstanding high school students.

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