Kansas Supreme Court denies Shawnee Mission School District motion to intervene in Gannon case

The Shawnee Mission School Board voted to file the motion to intervene at the suggestion of Superintendent Jim Hinson earlier this year.
The Shawnee Mission School Board voted to file the motion to intervene at the suggestion of Superintendent Jim Hinson earlier this year.

By Dan Blom and Jay Senter

Saying that the district had not acted in a timely manner, the Kansas Supreme Court on Monday denied an attempt by the Shawnee Mission School District to intervene in the ongoing court case over school funding.

In a motion filed in March, Shawnee Mission had argued that the group of mostly smaller and rural school districts who are suing the state want a distribution of funds that exacerbates inequities between districts like Shawnee Mission and those who constitute the plaintiffs. A three-judge panel in Shawnee County denied that motion in April, but the district appealed their decision to the Supreme Court.

In its ruling issued Monday, the court conceded that Shawnee Mission is not adequately represented in the case by the state, countering the ruling of the Shawnee County judges. The lower court had said the state adequately represented Shawnee Mission because they both wanted to preserve the “status quo.” However, Shawnee Mission had argued that it does not want to preserve the status quo because it wants a change to the school funding formula that is not being sought by the state or the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court justices agreed.

“[I]t sought a change to the formula not requested by either party—the elimination of the Cap on the Local Option Budget (LOB),” read the ruling. “We agree and conclude the State does not adequately represent USD 512’s interests.”

The Supreme Court also determined that the district’s interests diverge from the plaintiffs over the equity of school funding even though they both want to see more funding for schools.

But the court ultimately rejected Shawnee Mission’s request to intervene because, it said, even if the district did not know it would adequately be represented in the Gannon case back in 2012, it should have known by March 2014 that “its interests might not be adequately represented in the remedy stage. So we conclude its motion to intervene 1 year later was untimely.”

Shawnee Mission’s decision to file the motion to intervene ruffled the feathers of a number of education advocates in the state earlier this year, who said the move splintered cohesive efforts to build a strong education funding system for all districts.

In a statement carried by the Topeka Capital-Journal, Alan Rupe, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, wrote, “It is our opinion that SMSD wants to turn public education in Kansas into an ‘every district for itself’ system and we are certainly opposed to any efforts to significantly disrupt the equity of the school funding system.”

Tristan Duncan, the Shook, Hardy & Bacon attorney who represented the district in filing the motion earlier this year, pointed out that the court’s ruling affirmed in several instances that the district’s interests are not represented in the case. She said the district will file an amicus brief in the case.

District communications officials have not responded to a request for comment on the ruling.

The latest ruling adds to the complex landscape in which decisions about school finance will be determined by the legislature and the judiciary in the coming months. The Shawnee County three-judge panel ruled in late June that the current funding system of block grants recently passed by the legislature is unconstitutional. The state has appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

You can see Monday’s full ruling from the Supreme Court embedded below.

https://dfv6pkw99pxmo.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/22065544/113908.pdf

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