- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) - School administrators across Kansas are trying to figure out how a recent state Supreme Court ruling will affect their ability to provide critical summer programs and prepare for the fall semester that begins in August.

Some districts are taking a wait-and-see approach to a stalemate between the Legislature and the court, which has threatened to cease all school functions on July 1 if lawmakers don’t find a way to resolve problems in the current funding formula.

Other districts are busy creating contingency plans for what they will do if the issue is not resolved and the court follows through with its threat.

The problem for most is that they aren’t sure what the court’s ruling means, said Mark Tallman, a Kansas Association of School Boards lobbyist.

“We’re in an unprecedented situation, complicated by the fact the Supreme Court has not issued any specific directives on what its potential order might be,” he said. “There are enormous questions that we can’t answer.”

Summertime is when budgets for the next year are written, enrollment plans are developed, school buses are maintained and buildings are prepped for the new year, said Jim Freeman, chief financial officer for Wichita Public Schools, the state’s largest district.

“If we’re shut down for any length of time, even a day or two in the summer, it will have some real negative impact on whether we can actually start school on time,” he said.

The Wichita district has more than 51,000 students, or about 11 percent of all public school students in Kansas. Its summer food program feeds about 7,000 students at 41 sites through a federal program, and has a summer latchkey program that provides day care for about 1,200 children.

Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis said officials at the State Department of Education, legislative researchers and Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration are discussing whether school districts still could spend federal funds and their cash reserves if the Supreme Court declares the entire school finance formula invalid.

Dennis said the state would have to increase its aid between $38 million and $51 million during the 2016-17 school year to comply with the latest court order. The cost would depend upon whether lawmakers want to prevent wealthy districts from losing aid as the state helped poor ones, he said.

The Shawnee Mission School District, one of the state’s most affluent, plans to fully operate on July 1 and ready for the start of classes on Aug. 12, Superintendent Jim Hinson said Thursday.

There’s never been a delay to a school year in the U.S. caused by action of a court or legislature, and lawmakers are smart enough to not let their state be the first, he said.

Others aren’t so sure.

“It appears that we’re a lot closer to a shutdown than we’ve ever been before,” said John Robb, a Newton attorney representing the four school districts - Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita, and Kansas City - suing the state.

Attorneys for the districts said that if legislators don’t act by June 30, they’d expect the court to schedule a hearing for the state to “show cause” why schools shouldn’t remain closed. They said they would then argue that schools should be allowed to spend federal funds, make bond payments and spend money on basic maintenance of their buildings.

But, they said, under such a scenario, classes still wouldn’t be held, and teachers and other staff would not be paid. Robb said many school employees might seek other jobs.

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