KCK school board candidates lambaste block grant bill

At a candidate forum Wednesday evening, candidates for the KCK school board spoke. From left, Maria Ysaac, Rep. Val Winn, incumbent Brenda Jones, moderator Murrel Bland, incumbent Gloria Willis, Irene Caudillo and Janey Humphries. To the right are Linda Pendleton, who asked questions, and incumbent George Breidenthal. (Staff photo)
At a candidate forum Wednesday evening, candidates for the KCK school board spoke. From left, Maria Ysaac, Rep. Val Winn, incumbent Brenda Jones, moderator Murrel Bland, incumbent Gloria Willis, Irene Caudillo and Janey Humphries. To the right are Linda Pendleton, who asked questions, and incumbent George Breidenthal. (Staff photo)

by Mary Rupert
There was no disagreement Wednesday evening among the seven Kansas City, Kan., school board candidates on the school block grant bill passed within this past week by the Kansas Legislature. The candidates roundly criticized it.

The block grant is designed to give school districts the same amount of money as they receive now for the next two years. The bill passed the House and Senate and went to the governor for a signature.

The seven KCK school board candidates made their remarks at an election forum at Kansas City Kansas Community College, sponsored by Business West, Downtown Shareholders, Historic Northeast Midtown Association, Armourdale Renewal Association, and the community college. About 100 persons attended. Asking questions of the school board candidates was Linda Pendleton, former KCK school board member who is the Armourdale Renewal Association executive director.

“The problem is, the Kansas City, Kan., district is a growing district,” said George Breidenthal, a school board incumbent. The board members fear that if their district adds students, which requires more teachers and other funding, it will not receive enough money for the additional students.

Some expect the new block grant funding bill to be challenged in court if it becomes law. On Tuesday, March 17, the Kansas attorney general filed an appeal to the a judicial panel’s finding that school funding in Kansas is inadequate in the Gannon case.

Breidenthal said the last he heard, the KCK district could lose up to $9 million under the new legislation. Right now the board is trying to figure out the school district’s budget, and has no idea of what to expect. The KCK district may get the same amount of funding that it received in 2003, he said. It was like trying to live on the same amount of funds that you had in 2003, he added.

Janey Humphries, a candidate for the school board, said the district is now expected to do more with less. Block grants will hurt the district because it is a growing district, she said. The district receives more funding for low-income, non-English speaking students, but that may change under the new legislation. There are about 9,000 non-English speaking students in the district, who are expected to perform well on tests in only one year, she added.

“What you’re seeing at the Capitol is definitely an attack on public education,” said Irene Caudillo, a school board candidate. The block grant was not good for the district, and legislators are trying to balance the budget on the backs of the children, she said.

“What we need to do is to make sure we continue to advocate,” she said. “We need to make sure that this does not happen.”

Gloria Willis, a member of the school board for 20 years, said the block grant reminds her of being put in a box. The box closes the district in, she said.

“I’m an advocate of public education,” she said. “We need to do things that will benefit the children in Kansas City, Kan.”

Brenda Jones, incumbent board member, pointed out that costs have gone up over the years as enrollment increases. The consumer price index was up 22.9 percent, enrollment increased 11.4 percent, the at-risk count is 23.2 percent and the bilingual number is 62.7 percent, she said.

“Our at-risk kids will be at risk even more,” Jones said. “They will be forgotten.”

Rep. Val Winn, D-34th Dist., a KCKCC professor who is running for the school board and plans to also serve at the same time in the Legislature, said the amount of funding to KCK will be reduced in the block grant. The funding amount on paper looks like more money, but it includes pension funding, not money that can be used in the classroom, she said.

“The block grant was a coup,” she said, and it will last as long as those who passed it are in power. There is still a last bastion of protecting the constitutionality of adequacy of funding, she added.

The Wyandotte County legislators who are Democrats voted against the block grant bill.

Maria Cecilia Ysaac, also a candidate for the school board, said, “It is sad and it makes my stomach turn that the legislators that said they were going to protect our education and that wanted the best for Kansas are doing this to our students, the most vulnerable, the ones that can’t defend ourselves. We are here to defend them. This school board, I believe, has an obligation to fight back any way it can, by encouraging our children to be civically active, to speak out, to march, to make phone calls, and to demand that their representatives represent their interests.

“Shame on them, but shame on us if we don’t do something about this and vote these people out,” Ysaac said.

Janet Waugh, State Board of Education member, 1st District, who attended the meeting, said afterward that she had “tweeted” this message right after the vote: “Today I say shame on you to the House members who voted yes” on the block grant bill.

Waugh said that the school districts in Wyandotte County, and most school districts in the state, were not in favor of the block funding bill. It did have some support from the Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission school districts in Johnson County, she added. One elementary school to the north of Easton may have to close because of the funding.

The candidate forum, with more comments from the KCK school board candidates and other candidates for office, will be shown on the KCKCC cable television channel. The election is April 7.

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Kansas Supreme Court denies state’s request in Gannon school finance case

The Kansas Supreme Court today denied the state’s request in the Gannon school finance case to stay further panel proceedings or to remand the case on a limited basis.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court for resolution of all pending post-trial motions, including the state’s Jan. 23 motion to alter and amend the Dec. 30 order on adequacy and the plaintiffs’ Jan. 27 motion to alter the Dec. 30 order on equity, according to court documents.

The case has been dealing with two concepts – whether the funds provided to public schools are adequate, and whether they are equitable.

“In the panel’s consideration, it should remain mindful that although the issues underlying the two motions ‘do not exist in isolation from each other,’ they do exist in different stages of their resolution,” the Supreme Court stated today in its order.

The Supreme Court affirmed the panel’s equity rulings and remanded the case for the panel to enforce them after giving the Legislature an opportunity to cure the constitutional infirmities, the court stated today.

“But instead of affirming the panel’s adequacy rulings, we remanded for the panel to apply the test we articulated to determine whether the state met its constitutional duty to provide adequacy in public education,” the court stated today.

Schools for Fair Funding has been representing many school districts in this case, including the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools and the Turner Public Schools.

On Dec. 30, 2014, a three-judge panel issued an order on adequacy. The state appealed the adequacy ruling on Jan. 23.

On Jan. 27, the plaintiff school district asked to alter the Dec. 30 order on equity.

A panel hearing had been scheduled for March 5, but it was canceled, according to court documents.

On Jan. 28, the state appealed the case on the issue of adequacy. On Feb. 27, the state asked for an order to stay further panel proceedings pending disposition of the appeal, or to remand the case for the limited purpose of having the panel resolve the state’s motion to alter and amend, court documents stated. The state argued the docketing of its appeal in the Supreme Court divested the district court panel of jurisdiction to consider its outstanding motion to alter and amend.

The plaintiff school districts responded on March 3, asking to deny the state’s motion, and asked to remand the state’s appeal to the panel for final resolution of all pending post-trial motions, including the state’s Jan. 23 motion to alter and amend the Dec. 30 order on the issue of adequacy and the plaintiffs’ Jan. 27 motion to alter the Dec. 30 order on the issue of equity, according to court documents.

The appellate briefing schedule was stayed pending further notice from the court, according to court documents.

Two Supreme Court justices have recused themselves in this case, Caleb Stegall and Carol Beier.

For an earlier story on this topic, see http://wyandottedaily.com/school-districts-file-response-in-school-finance-case/

School finance bill passes House

While the Legislature returns to session on Saturday, April 5, to finish its work, including work on school finance, some progress was made on Friday night.

The House passed a bill Friday that was a compromise endorsed by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Democrat.

The bipartisan effort on Senate Bill 218 passed 91-31. Rep. Broderick Henderson and Rep. Valdenia Winn, Democrats from the Wyandotte County delegation, voted against it.

“The school finance bill that passed the Kansas House today (Friday) with bipartisan support increases funding to Kansas schools by $83 million and includes $74 million of property tax relief,” Gov Brownback said in a statement. “I am pleased with the broad bipartisan support for a plan that puts money into the classrooms where it best benefits students and teachers.

The bill as passed made cuts to programs that assist students older than 19 and students who are part-time.  Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat from the Wichita area, said that even though he voted for the bill he was disappointed in the elimination of the at-risk services for these students, and he hoped that the conference committee would restore these funds.

“Poor urban school districts spend a great many resources keeping at risk students in school. Many of these students have to work. These students take an untraditional route to graduation but they do graduate. The finance formula should not punish districts that help these kids,” he said in a statement in the House.

The House also changed its plan to dip into retirement funds from the schools to pay for school finance, and also restored proceeds from the sale of Rainbow Mental Health facility in Kansas City, Kan., to mental health services. Instead, funding for school finance is coming from the state’s general fund.

The Kansas National Education Associated stated that it had opposed a change to licensure that would “lower the standards for teacher licensure in Kansas” and had opposed the expansion of the “innovative district” program. Those provisions were left in the version the House passed.

The House and Senate will work on their differences in the bill in a conference committee.