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Greenwood Schools To Intervene in School Funding-Formula Lawsuit

As did the Van Buren School Board earlier this month, the Greenwood School Board on Thursday passed a resolution 6-0 to intervene in a school funding lawsuit filed against the state by the Deer/Mount Judea School District.

Superintendent John Ciesla told the board he thinks it is in the district’s best interest for its voice to be heard because the outcome of the suit would be binding on the district.

In the resolution, the Greenwood board directs Ciesla to take appropriate action to protect the district’s interests, including retaining legal counsel and intervening in the lawsuit filed by the small, isolated, rural school district.

In October, the state Supreme Court remanded the suit to Pulaski County Circuit Court for trial. In the suit, Deer/Mount Judea alleges the state’s funding system for public schools is inequitable and inadequate, particularly for smaller, isolated districts. It contends the state failed to follow state law regarding funding following the long-running Lake View School District lawsuit.

The larger districts both noted that they are dependent upon funding provided through Arkansas’ foundation aid formula, established following the Lake View decision. The formula affects districts in disparate ways, depending on wealth, average daily student enrollment and other factors, it states.

“Changes to the funding structure can have a significant impact upon the operation of local schools; and … the Deer/Mount Judea School District has challenged the funding formula in its structure, the manner of determining the level of adequacy and other issues,” the Greenwood resolution states.

The Greenwood School Board also approved 6-0 a resolution asking the state not to require preschools operated by public school districts but licensed by the Department of Human Services to obtain liability insurance as DHS has been mandated to do.

The resolution states that Arkansas law and courts have long upheld the principle of tort immunity for public schools, and requiring them to obtain the liability insurance will jeopardize their tort immunity.

Ciesla said DHS notified the district in September 2013 that it must acquire the insurance by July 1 to maintain its preschool license for the Arkansas Better Chance Pre-K program.

The resolution states the added expenses and the distraction to district staff involved in defending a liability lawsuit or claim would create burdens for the district.

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