After sending $202,316.42 to Schools for Fair Funding Inc. since July 2010 — the year the latest school finance lawsuit was filed — Hutchinson USD 308 has no plans to pay any dues or fees in the fiscal year that recently started.

The litigation was successful and the Legislature responded, said USD 308 school board member Tad Dower.

“I don’t think we need to keep our foot on the gas,” Dower said, at the Monday night meeting when superintendent Mike Folks sought the opinion of the school board.

Don’t spend more money right now on Schools for Fair Funding, which spearheaded the school finance suit, was the view expressed by other board members.

The Gannon suit against the state was filed in late 2010, claiming state funding was inadequate and inequitable. The Legislature’s new school finance formula and funding plan passed muster with the Kansas Supreme Court, but the top court did not dismiss Gannon and retained jurisdiction to help ensure the Legislature’s compliance over the next several years. 

According to the Kansas Association of School Boards, total general fund, special education aid and local option budget spending in the state in 2010 amounted to about $3.95 billion. It is projected at over $5.17 billion in 2023.

Folks said in an email to The News that the school district is not closing the window on Schools for Fair Funding but “it just means we believe the suit has been effective in helping the students of 308 and all districts in Kansas.”

Folks started on the job here in July, less than a month after the Supreme Court ruled in Gannon. USD 308 is one of four school districts listed as a plaintiff in Gannon. The other three are the Dodge City, Wichita and Kansas City, Kan., school districts.

Later this month, Folks will attend a Schools for Fair Funding meeting with the other districts that have been directly involved in the litigation. "I do not know exactly what is going to be asked of us during this meeting or what direction this meeting might go," Folks wrote in an email to The News. He said he will share the board's wish not to make a payment in the new fiscal year. 

Other school districts have paid dues to Schools for Fair Funding even though they were not plaintiffs in the case. According to USD 308, the Hutchinson district did not pay extra fees to Schools for Fair Funding because it was a plaintiff.

Folks said the amount Hutchinson USD paid to Schools for Fair Funding should be put in context with the increased state aid. By Schools for Fair Funding’s calculations in March, USD 308’s “total annual potential adequacy and equity gains,” dipping back to when the Legislature began boosting money to schools and projecting to fiscal year 2023, equaled $8,957,451.

The News asked USD 308 for the superintendent salary in July 2010 and currently, and for a beginning teacher’s starting pay in 2010 and now.

The Hutchinson school district had an interim superintendent in 2010-11, but the superintendent who left in June 2010, David Flowers, had a base salary of about $155,000. Folks’ base salary this year is $170,000.

The base pay for a starting Hutchinson teacher in July 2010 was $34,400. Teachers starting this current school year are receiving $38,550, but they are expected to receive a retroactive pay boost when the contract for 2019-2020 is ratified.

The only school district in Reno County that potentially could pay Schools for Fair Funding in the new budget year is Buhler USD 313.

USD 313 superintendent Mike Berblinger said that will be a school board decision. Berblinger said he was “doubtful” the payment would continue.

Membership charges are based on enrollment, Berblinger said. Hutchinson has had more than twice the full-time equivalent enrollment of Buhler, and Hutchinson’s average annual cost for Schools for Fair Funding has hovered around $25,000 since 2010.

Any of the state’s 286 school districts that paid a sum to Schools for Fair Funding since July 2010 must compile those numbers and send them to the Kansas Department of Education.

The goal is to get the data before the end of this month, according to Dale Dennis, with the Kansas Department of Education.

Mandating the data is Senate Bill 16, passed this year by the Legislature.

Inserted into the bill was the requirement that all school districts compile the total expenditures as a result of the school district’s participation in any legal proceeding challenging the constitutional adequacy of any school finance laws, regardless of whether the school district was a named plaintiff, dating back to July 1, 2010.

“I would imagine that what we’re going to get in most cases is the amount of money that they contributed to the Schools for Fair Funding group,” Dennis said.

Newton attorney John Robb, with Schools for Fair Funding, said Schools for Fair Funding will shift into "a monitoring mode," watching the Legislature's fulfillment of its promised funding. Previously when the Legislature was sued over school funding, it soon began backsliding on funding, Robb noted. 

About 40 school districts are dues-paying members of Schools for Fair Funding. The plan is to lower the dues but keep Schools for Fair Funding operational.

The quickest way for the gains to erode, in Robb's opinion, is absence of monitoring of the Legislature.