Mission Valley and Brookwood parents now pin hopes on federal lawsuit

For more than ten weeks, Save Mission Valley parents and their Brookwood counterparts lobbied hard for the board to reject the superintendent’s proposals.

Today it looks like the only hope of keeping the schools where those parents want them lies in the federal lawsuit filed by ten area families last Friday.

Tristan Duncan, an attorney at Shook Hardy & Bacon and the parent of a student at SM East, is leading the case for the plaintiffs. Shook Hardy & Bacon has accepted the case on a pro-bono basis, though some area parents have begun talk of forming a legal defense fund to help pay for the challenge.

Duncan said they should have an initial decision from the judge within 60 to 90 days. If the judge determines the district was forced to act based on circumstances brought about by an unconstitutional funding formula, the initial decision might include an order for the board of education to vacate its votes on Mission Valley and Brookwood. But the judge’s decision is just as likely to contain no provisions that would affect the implementation of Monday’s votes.

Duncan explained to shawneemissionpost.com last night that the case is based on a 14th Amendment argument suggesting that Shawnee Mission parents are being denied equal protection under the law. By placing a cap on the amount of money districts can raise through property taxes, she said, the state’s school funding formula denies parents the right to use their personal property to provide a better education for their children.

Two cases challenging school funding formulas in Texas and Florida in the 1970s provide the court precedent for the challenge.

During the open forum Monday, Duncan told the audience the law suit was filed as a way to address the root cause of the budget problems that forced the district to close schools:

Though the state’s school funding formula has faced several challenges at the state level, it has not yet faced a federal challenge that had no state-level counterpart. A previous case was filed simultaneously in federal and state courts. The judge who heard the federal version deferred to the state.

A number of people at the board meeting last night, including at-large board of education member Larry Winn, expressed support for the suit. Winn said he thought the suit could provide an avenue to address the financial strife brought upon the district by the state’s funding formula.