District aided legal effort

Lawrence board OK'd $5,000 contribution in school finance case

? Lawrence school officials contributed $5,000 in tax money to the school finance lawsuit, according to records released recently by the group of schools that successfully sued the state.

The records also showed that an attorney who sued the State Board of Education over school funding talked to one or more board members at least four times in seven years.

Schools for Fair Funding, which bankrolled the school finance lawsuit, made the records public last month after the Topeka Capital-Journal sued the group for disclosure.

Lawrence school officials said Wednesday they felt it was their duty to help support the lawsuit.

“In theory we all agreed that this was the right approach, and we supported the efforts of this group to try to address the inequities in the school funding formula,” said Linda Robinson, vice president of the Lawrence school board.

Robinson and Supt. Randy Weseman said the decision was discussed and approved during an open session of the board earlier this year, and the check sent to Schools for Fair Funding in February.

“It’s just that we felt we ought to do something,” Weseman said. “We appreciate their efforts, and it was a gesture to offset even minimally what they were incurring in the lawsuit,” he said.

More funds were sought

Schools for Fair Funding was the organization of school districts that pumped more than $3.2 million in tax dollars into efforts to challenge the school funding system.

In 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court declared that the funding system unconstitutionally shortchanged students.

In July, the court dismissed the lawsuit after lawmakers increased school spending by $756 million and changed the way the funds were distributed.

But before the dismissal, as lawmakers battled over school finance, Schools for Fair Funding asked the Lawrence district to contribute to help offset its expenses.

Over the past couple of years, the group suggested a $60,000 payment and then a $30,000 payment, Weseman said.

Weseman said the school board wasn’t willing to give that much.

In the end, the Lawrence district did not fare as well under the new school finance plan as some other districts with a higher proportion of low-income students.

But Robinson said that wasn’t the fault of Schools for Fair Funding, and so she doesn’t feel the $5,000 was wasted.

“The court threw out the lawsuit. I don’t think they fixed it, but you take what you can get,” she said.

She said without Schools for Fair Funding pressing the litigation, school funding would be in worse shape.

Weseman said now that the lawsuit has been dismissed, he didn’t think the school district would be contributing any more money to Schools for Fair Funding.

Rupe’s contacts

The Schools for Fair Funding records also documented attorney Alan Rupe’s contacts with board members, the Capital-Journal reported.

Typically, attorneys aren’t allowed to talk to the parties they’re suing, except through those parties’ attorneys. And Dan Biles, the board’s attorney, said he was troubled by Rupe’s actions.

But Rupe said his contacts didn’t violate ethics rules for attorneys because board members are public officials. Also, he described his contacts as innocent.

Only one board member, Carol Rupe, a Wichita Republican and Alan Rupe’s ex-wife, recalled talking to him about the school finance case.

“It’s no secret I thought the state board was on the wrong side of this lawsuit,” she said.