The Wichita School District hired a political consulting firm to monitor and report to district administration on legislative activities. School board members approved, 6-0, a $44,000, six-month contract with Capitol Strategies during a Dec. 11 meeting.
Until recently, USD 259 employed a full-time lobbyist, Diane Gjerstad. She retired after 24 years with the district in 2017. Her annual salary last year was $108,000. USD 259 hired Terrell Davis, one of its middle school principals, to replace her in a restructured role. Last year, Davis earned a salary of $110,000. Davis will not be a registered lobbyist. However, he will serve as a legislative liaison for the district.
USD 259 will use the services of Capitol Strategies also as a liaison between lawmakers and the district administration, including scheduling meetings with legislative members. The political consultants will also assist in crafting testimony for legislative hearings and help district officials comply with legislative rules and procedures.
“They’re so out of touch with the optics on that,” Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, said.
The Wichita district is one of a handful of plaintiffs suing the state for additional education funding in the Gannon lawsuit. In its latest opinion, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled school financing unconstitutional and gave lawmakers an April deadline to craft a new funding formula.
Since the inception of the Gannon lawsuit in 2010, Kansas public school districts have spent more than $5 million lobbying and suing the state for more funding. That’s the equivalent of hiring more than 110 full-time elementary teachers. The Wichita district was the largest contributor to Schools for Fair Funding, an organization that helped sue the state for school funding. The Wichita district contributed just under $1 million in SFFF membership dues over the last six years.
Whitmer says he would support legislation that limits school districts and other public entities from using taxpayer money to sue the state.
“I believe that it’s fair to question a district that uses taxpayer dollars to sue the taxpayers for more taxpayer dollars while employing a consultant to lobby for more taxpayer dollars using taxpayer dollars,” he said.