The partnership between the district and the college, unique in Kansas, was approved by voters in June 2007 as part of a larger package of facility improvements for USD 410 at a total cost not to exceed $6.625 million.
Brandt’s lawsuit contested only the football and track facility, contending that state law requires a school district to be sole owner of its property.
The district and the college entered into an interlocal agreement defining the partnership on Dec. 14, 2007, six months after the bond election and the filing of the lawsuit.
The interlocal agreement was approved Jan. 8 by the state attorney general’s office and filed with the secretary of state Jan. 22.
Citing K.S.A 72-8205(e), Hornbaker ruled that state law does allow a school board to own property jointly with a public or privately held corporation as outlined in the interlocal agreement.
The relevant wording from the statute states: “The board may transact all school district business and adopt policies that the board deems appropriate to perform its constitutional duty to maintain, develop and operate local public schools.”
Brandt’s attorney had argued before Hornbaker at the July 14 hearing that statutes since 1951 have prescribed sole ownership of property.
By his ruling last week, Hornbaker agreed with the district’s contention that the home-rule statute approved in 2003 changed the authority allocated to school districts.
Prior to the home rule, school districts could only take action on what was specifically authorized in the law. Now, authorization by school districts has been broadened. School districts may interact authority unless a statute states they cannot.
Hornbaker also disagreed with the plantiff’s contention that the district and college had made a “secret agreement” for Tabor College to become sole owner of the athletic facility once the 40-year interlocal agreement with the district is terminated.
“There is no evidence of a ‘secret’ agreement between Tabor and the district,” Hornbaker wrote in his decision. “The court disagrees with the plaintiff and finds that the interlocal agreement complies with the statute relating to disposition of the property.”
Also disallowed was the plaintiff’s allegation that the interlocal does not specify how the operation of the facility would be financed following its acquisition.
“The district has in fact addressed the issue in a satisfactory manner in compliance with the statute,” Hornbaker wrote.
The judge also disagreed with the plaintiff’s allegations that the bond election notice was legally defective, and that the state attorney general was derelict in his duty when he approved the interlocal agreement.
In summary, Hornbaker ruled that the requirements of the interlocal agreement, “while not necessary in this case, were in fact complied in full.”
The judge’s ruling was greeted with gratitude by district officials.
“We always felt like we acted in an appropriate way,” USD 410 Superintendent Doug Huxman told the board of education when he announced the decision that same evening at a special meeting called to approve next year’s budget.
“Working with Tabor, we wanted to do something positive for the community,” he said.