Topeka State Board of Education member Walt Chappell has written school districts, urging them not to sue the state over funding cuts to Kansas public schools.
“Clearly, this is not the time to appear greedy and selfish when most Kansas families, businesses and government agencies at all levels are suffering,” Chappell said in the e-mail, which was sent out last week.
Chappell’s e-mail has prompted an angry response from some school officials.
Santa Fe Trail School Board President Randy Boudeman said that many of Chappell’s statements in the e-mail are incorrect and that recent budget cuts implemented by the state are cheating Kansas school children.
“Without question they are paying the price for a problem they did not create,” Boudeman said. “I truly figured our State Board would be in the lead to stop this. It’s disappointing to me that you are not.”
Santa Fe Trail Superintendent Steve Pegram was more blunt.
“Mr. Chappell, unless you can propose a way to replace the over $800,000 of revenue the Santa Fe Trail School District has lost since January of 2009, I again respectfully ask you to mind your own business and begin advocating for the students of Kansas, instead of advocating for the Kansas Legislature!”
The issue of school finance promises to be an explosive one during the 2010 legislative session that starts Jan. 11.
The current state budget crisis has resulted in five rounds of budget cuts this year to many areas of state government, including $241 million to schools.
Members of a coalition of more than 70 school districts voted last week on a resolution to ask the Kansas Supreme Court to reopen a school finance lawsuit filed in 1999. That lawsuit led to orders from the state Supreme Court in 2005 and 2006 that forced funding increases to public schools. The group is called Schools for Fair Funding.
In his e-mail, Chappell repeats an assertion he has made that school districts had nearly $700 million in fund balances at the start of the fiscal year to handle cash flow problems. Education officials have said approximately half of those funds must be spent for specific purposes, such as paying off bonds. And they have noted that in addition to handling budget cuts, school districts have had to deal with the state delaying several major school payments because of falling tax revenues.
Contacted by telephone Thursday, Chappell, a Democrat from Wichita, said he was not speaking for the 10-member State Board of Education.
He said he sent the e-mail to approximately 30 of the larger school districts that have joined Schools for Fair Funding.
He said he has received both positive and negative responses.
“There are quite a few of us on the State Board and in the Legislature who believe this is not the time to sue anybody,” he said.
Schools for Fair Funding, however, has said suing the state is the lesser of two evils.
“Turning to the courts for redress is less harmful to our kids than shorting them of their education,” said John Robb, an attorney who represents Schools for Fair Funding.