Borough hopes to pick counsel for school funding lawsuit by next week

State suit needs lawyer

Posted: Friday, January 12, 2007

Bids from attorneys hoping to represent the Kenai Peninsula Borough in its proposed lawsuit against the state of Alaska over inequitable funding for borough schools are expected in by today.

But it may be Tuesday before an analysis of those bids is complete and the apparent winner announced, Borough Mayor John Williams said Wednesday.

Williams said proposals received by today would be reviewed and scored over the weekend and likely through Monday, and that the administration would make the bid winner’s name public in time for the meeting Tuesday.

It will be up to the assembly whether the proposed legal action is pursued.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough has been considering a suit over inequitable state funding of Kenai Peninsula Borough schools for several years. Last year the assembly considered but declined to join a similar suit now in Anchorage Superior Court, opting to take its own case before a judge.

According to borough estimates, the state’s problematic Foundation Formula and a factor known as the area cost differential have likely shorted borough schools by as much as $100 million over 10 years. Lawmakers have given lip service to the idea of a wholesale revamp, but have not yet taken that step.

The school district might have been in an even deeper hole, save for sizeable, but nevertheless Band-Aid one-time appropriations over the past couple of years that have helped the district meet rapidly rising retirement and health care costs.

School districts are not “persons” within the meaning of the Alaska Constitution and cannot sue the state. So late last year the assembly authorized the administration to issue a request for proposals (bids) to law firms and attorneys willing to act on behalf of borough residents and develop and file the suit. The RFP was issued Dec. 29.

The winning law firm will be asked to interview and select representatives from among borough residents to serve as plaintiffs. The firm also will be expected to provide lobbying services during the coming legislative session. If state lawmakers act to fix the Foundation Formula and that fix is considered adequate, the borough would have the option of withdrawing the suit.

Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, a co-chair of the House Finance Committee, has been an active advocate for increased school funding. Last week he pre-filed House Bill 72, which would change the Foundation Formula’s area cost-differentials around the state.

Area cost differential factors use Anchorage’s school district and its retinue of urban schools as a basis, giving that community a factor of 1.0. If Chenault’s bill is passed as submitted, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s current cost factor of 1.046, used to fund both urban and remote schools, would rise to 1.171, potentially providing greater funding to the district.

Hal Spence can be reached at harold.spence@peninsulaclarion.com.



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