Superintendents from school districts that stand to gain or lose money under possible school finance bills met with state officials Monday to discuss their differences ahead of the Legislature’s special session.
The meeting at the state Department of Education included superintendents from two districts — Wichita and Kansas City, Kan. — that are suing the state for more funding. It also included three superintendents from Johnson County districts that want a solution that won’t require them to give up any funding. Those districts are Blue Valley, Olathe and Shawnee Mission.
Education Commissioner Randy Watson said his agency organized the meeting of superintendents and lawmakers “just to try to hash out all of the issues that people were thinking about” ahead of the special session that starts Thursday.
The state faces a June 30 deadline from the Kansas Supreme Court to fix unconstitutionally inequitable school funding or risk the closure of schools.
“We had a chance to meet and try to find the common ground we have to build upon,” said Rep. Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican and House budget chairman who has been working on a school finance bill to address the court’s ruling. He called the meeting productive but would not give details.
Wichita’s superintendent John Allison participated in the meeting, as did Kansas City, Kan.’s superintendent Cynthia Lane.
The court’s ruling could lead to millions in increased state funding for both districts if lawmakers return to the state’s old equalization formula, which gave aid to districts with lower tax revenues to equalize funding with richer districts that are able to raise more from local property taxes.
The superintendents of three Johnson County school districts — Marlin Berry of Olathe, Todd White of Blue Valley and Jim Hinson of Shawnee Mission — participated in the meeting.
Those districts all stand to lose money if the state restores the old equalization formula because they are receiving more under the state’s current block grant system, which was established last year.
Those superintendents held a news conference last week calling for lawmakers to include a provision to ensure their districts are held harmless by any equity fix. But some lawmakers and attorneys have expressed doubts about whether courts would accept that as constitutional.
Watson said the discussion covered all aspects of school funding and equity.
“I can’t say that there was movement. … But I thought that it was a healthy discussion,” Watson said. “Really, it was just a discussion. There wasn’t meant to be any action items. We just wanted to get together before the special session and air our differences.”
Leigh Anne Neal, a spokeswoman for the Shawnee Mission school district, said Hinson characterized the meeting similarly.
“No decisions were made, but it was a good, productive discussion,” she said.