For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Bob Cooper
Date: October 27, 2003
State to Seek Supreme Court Reversal of Court Decision Blocking School Safety
The State of Idaho will ask the Idaho Supreme Court for expedited review of an Ada County District Court judge's decision that would prevent repairs to unsafe schools in six Idaho school districts, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said.
"There are really two critical issues in this case," Attorney General Wasden said. "First, are we going to let our kids continue to go to school in unsafe buildings while the adults argue about who will pay for repairs? The district court says that is what we must do. I strongly disagree. Second, how should we fund our local school buildings? I believe that is a policy decision that should be made through the legislative process. I am urging the Supreme Court to reverse the district court's decision, in order to provide for immediate repairs to unsafe schools."
Wasden will ask the Supreme Court to review provisions in the Constitutionally Based Education Claims Act (CBECA), which was passed by the Legislature in 1996. The Legislature amended that law in 2003 by passing House Bill 403. When the law was originally passed in 1996, the Legislature exempted the school districts that were active plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in 1990. After years of litigation with no resolution in court, the Legislature decided to bring all Idaho school districts under the law. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the CBECA in an opinion issued in 2000.
On June 19, 2003, the Supreme Court ordered Fourth District Judge Deborah Bail to decide the constitutionality of House Bill 403 and prohibited her from taking any action "in any matter not specifically related to that determination." Judge Bail then stayed the state from proceeding under the new law. On September 10, 2003, the Supreme Court dissolved the stay entered by Judge Bail and ordered the state to implement the "provisions of House Bill 403 within five (5) business days…."
The state complied with the Supreme Court's September 10, 2003 order by asking thirteen school districts that had previously identified unsafe conditions whether those conditions still existed, and, if so, what plan was in place to abate those conditions. Six of the thirteen school districts provided information that the unsafe conditions had been abated or were being abated pursuant to a plan. Those districts were dismissed from the lawsuit. On September 16, 2003, the state filed lawsuits against the seven school districts that did not respond or provide any information as to the status of their unsafe conditions.
Currently, only six school districts remain involved in litigation with the state. The cases are based on evidence of unsafe conditions presented by the school districts in their lawsuit against the state. Before taking legal action, the Attorney General's Office asked the school districts whether the unsafe conditions still existed, whether they had been abated, or whether the district had developed an abatement plan. After filing the lawsuits, the Attorney General's Office again asked those questions and offered to put the lawsuits on hold while the state worked with the districts to achieve a negotiated settlement. The six remaining districts have, to this date, refused to answer the Attorney General's questions or to negotiate a plan to make their schools safe.
On October 23, 2003, the state announced a settlement with Midvale School District No. 433. The settlement provides that unsafe conditions will be abated before September 30, 2004. The Midvale School District indicated that the repairs will be made by current employees within existing financial resources.
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