R-V district backed into a legal corner

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dear Editor:

Southwest R-V school officials have been backed into a legal corner by a state law passed last year by legislators seeking to defuse a lawsuit by a coalition of school districts seeking more money for public education.

The Southwest R-V Board of Education voted on Thursday, Sept. 13 to tell the district's staff to check "no" on a state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) document asking the district to say whether they are providing "an adequate education" to local students.

The answer doesn't reflect on the quality of education being provided at Southwest R-V, but it does allow the district to stay in the coalition of more than 200 Missouri school districts seeking a more equal distribution of state education funds. The group is called the Coalition for Educational Equality and it was formed to address the inequality in educational spending between urban and rural districts in Missouri.

The law was passed for the sole and expressed purpose of defusing the lawsuit filed by the school districts against the state. I think it was intended to force school districts to say "yes" we were providing adequate education, therefore the legislature would use that against us to say well how can you sue the state for inadequate or unequal funding. The question is: "The school district is providing an adequate education, yes or no," and I think it's under the political context of the question that we answer no.

Lawmakers intentionally worded the law, requiring district to affirm that they are providing an adequate education to put districts in a no-win situation. The legislation goes on to say that if you answer no, then the reason that you don't have an adequate education is a lack of local effort or not a high enough local tax rate to support education.

We believe that the state of Missouri needs to be making up some of the difference between the $13,000 per student that's being spent in St. Louis versus the $6,000 per student that we spend annually here in Southwest R-V and in what we call out-state Missouri.

It is the duty of the legislature to "adequately and equitably" provide for the increased funding for public schools. The school districts with property tax levies below $3.43 per $100 of assessed valuation cannot be required to state they are adequately funded when they are not. Southwest R-V checked "no" on the DESE document because it was forced to comply with the new state law and the district disagrees with the new law.

The Southwest R-V School District encourages parents, businesses and community organizations to become involved with local schools. When that happens, students do better in school, have more opportunities to apply their lessons to real-life situations and are more successful when they advance to college and work.


Doug Lawyer

Southwest Superintendent

Washburn, Missouri