Written by Don Ratzlaff Wednesday, 13 June 2007 07:47
Attorneys acting on behalf of a Unified School District 410 patron from rural Hillsboro have filed a lawsuit to prevent the sale of bonds that was approved by voters in the June 5 election.
The suit, filed on behalf of Raymond Brandt, contends that the district’s intention to become joint owners of property with Tabor College is not authorized by Kansas law.
The suit was filed Monday, June 4, in the Eighth Judicial District Court in an effort to get the district’s bond attorneys to call off the election, according to Brandt.
The suit, filed in district court by Susan R. Schrag of Morris, Laing, Evans, Brock & Kennedy of Wichita, was delivered to the USD 410 central office on Thursday morning.
As one phase of the district’s $6.625 million total project, the two institutions would share ownership of a new football and track-and-field facility, with each providing $2.016 million toward construction costs.
The lawsuit contends the plan to hold joint ownership of property is illegal because the district “is not authorized by law to acquire an undivided joint interest” with another entity.
The USD 410 Board of Education called a special meeting for Tuesday evening to meet in executive session with legal counsel to determine its response to the lawsuit.
Because the agenda of a special meeting cannot be changed once it’s been publicized, the board will not have the option to take action Tuesday night following its executive session.
In an interview Friday, Brandt said he was dissatisfied with responses to the questions he asked at the informational meetings sponsored by the district in advance of the election.
“Some of responses to the questions I asked, especially about the athletic field and joint ownership, seemed a little bit odd to me—and the fact that they could point to no other place where this has been done before.”
Brandt said he personally called McPherson, Bethany and Sterling colleges, all of which share their football field with their respective local high team. He said he was told that in each case, the college maintained full ownership of the property.
Brandt said he had a particular concern about a public-funded school district owning property with a privately funded Christian college.
“Where you’re talking about separation of church and state was pretty touchy here,” he said. “The attorney I talked to said that all the research she had done, that a school district cannot legally jointly own a field with another party.
“I questioned why the college couldn’t just upgrade its own facility and let the school use it, and the answer the college gave was that it was not good stewardship of their money,” he said. “Well, to me it’s not good stewardship of tax money, either.”
Superintendent Gordon Mohn said the school attorneys researched the issue early in the partnership process with Tabor College and said, “Our attorneys are positive about the position we’re in.”
Brandt said his attorney is less convinced of the district’s legal standing.
“My attorney checked with the (district’s) bond attorneys and kind of put the bond attorneys on the spot,” he said. “They did not know about the cases she was pointing out (where the court had denied joint ownership proposals).
“They’ll either have to change the wording of it, which, if they change it after an election, would make this election null and void. They can’t change (the wording) after the fact.”
Mohn said the board will need to weigh its options during Tuesday’s meeting.
“You could take the principled position that we believe this is right, we believe it’s legal, we’re going to go to court and prove that it’s legal,” he said. “And it may take a year, and it make take $50,000 in attorney fees to win.
“Or they could say, are there some other ways to arrange this (partnership with Tabor)?”
Mohn declined to say on the record what those options might be, but he did say, “If we could make it happen and avoid a legal hassle, and avoid court costs and attorney fees, maybe that’s what we ought to do. But we’re still going through all of that.”
Mohn said it was also unclear whether the injunction from selling bonds applied to the total $6.625 million or only the portion related to the Tabor partnership.
“We have to figure that one out,” he said.
Mohn said the board had hoped to have the bonds prepared for public sale by July 1. The legal process will determine whether that can happen.
“If it’s our intent to sell the bonds by July 1, the court may want to rule fairly quickly,” he said. “They might say it’s a nuisance lawsuit.
“But the other catch is, when we certify the sale of the bonds, we need to sign an affidavit saying there are no pending legal obligations. Well, we can’t do that now.”
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