May 28, 2013 8:22 PM by Andy Koen

Schools spent $700K in failed lawsuit

DENVER - A legal battle over education funding that dragged on for nearly a decade is finally over. The Colorado Supreme Court struck down a lawsuit Tuesday designed to force lawmakers into spending more on K-12 education.

In the 4-2 ruling on Lobato v Colorado, the justices ruled  decisions over school funding levels should be made by lawmakers rather than the courts.

The school boards from 92 Colorado districts contributed a combined $711,225 to the plaintiff's legal fund. Colorado Springs School District 11 and Pueblo City Schools, (District 60) were both named as plaintiffs in the suit gave a combined $103,154 ($84,779 from District 11 and $18,375 from District 60) to that fund.

We asked D11 Chief Financial Officer Glenn Gustafson if it was worth it.

"In retrospect, it's hard to know," Gustafson said. "Did we do the right thing? I think we did. We stood up for at risk kids."

Gustafson points out lawmakers have been slashing public school funding for years and the school board believed the lawsuit was a good use of money.

"We don't ask someone to go build a road and then double the requirement for the road and take away 16 percent of the money," Gustafson said "That's exactly what's happening with K-12 education."

He put together a report detailing the revenue and expenditures associated with the Lobato lawsuit using data provided by the association of school boards. It shows one lawyer alone, Alexander Halpern, collected the biggest fee of $322,454. The consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich & Associates collected the second highest amount at $150,000.

Joshua Dunn, Political Science Professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, thinks the schools would have been better keeping their money. He also says the ruling helped the state avoid a constitutional crisis.

"The only way they could tell the state legislature to spend more money would be by telling the state legislature that they can ignore the constitution and in particular TABOR and Gallagher," Dunn said.

He thinks an upcoming ballot initiative asking voters for an extra $1.1 billion a year in new taxes for education spending is now in jeopardy. Senate Bill 213 passed out of the legislature late last month on a party-line vote and was signed into law by Governor John Hickenlooper.

"It certainly didn't hurt them to say we've had a state court judge tell us that we're under funding education and we're in violation of the constitution, so, vote for this so that we can bring ourselves into compliance with this ruling," Dunn said. "Of course, now that the Supreme Court has overturned that ruling, they're going to lose that going into November."

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