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Across the Nation: Kansas schools caught in showdown

Kansas schools caught in showdown

TOPEKA, Kan. — Many Republican legislators are serious about defying a recent Kansas Supreme Court order on education funding and ready to test whether the justices would not allow public schools to open for the new academic year, the Senate’s majority leader said Tuesday.

Leaders of the Legislature’s GOP supermajorities did not plan to attempt to rewrite school finance laws Wednesday, when lawmakers were convening for a ceremony formally adjourning their annual session. That means Republican Gov. Sam Brownback would have to call a special session in June for lawmakers to consider additional fixes.

The court on Friday rejected some changes made earlier this year by the Republican legislators and said the education funding system remains unfair to poor districts. The court gave lawmakers until June 30 to address the remaining problems and or face the possibility that schools would remain closed.

“They’ve gone out of their way to pick a fight,” said Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce , a Nickerson Republican. “It’s gotten to a breaking point.”

Asked about talk of defying the court’s order, Bruce said, “It is serious.”

The Supreme Court ruled in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita, and Kansas City, Kansas districts. John Robb, one of their attorneys, called such talk “tremendously irresponsible.”

Public schools in Kansas have ended their 2015-16 year, but state Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said some of them have summer school programs, and many provide school lunches to poor children in June and July.

The Supreme Court said that because flaws remain in how the state distributes more than $4 billion a year in aid to its 286 local school districts, the entire finance system still violates the state constitution. Without a valid system, the court said, schools “will be unable to operate.”

Dennis said that the state would have to increase its aid between $38 million and $51 million to comply with the latest court order. The cost would depend upon whether lawmakers want to prevent wealthy districts from losing aid as the state helped poor ones, he said.

The court ruled in February that poor school districts weren’t getting their fair share of the aid, violating the state constitution.


Court: Ski resorts not liable for avalanches

DENVER — The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that avalanches are among the “inherent dangers of skiing” so ski resorts can’t be held liable for people killed by slides within their boundaries.

The 5-2 ruling came in a lawsuit brought by the widow of Christopher Norris, who was killed in 2012 after being caught in a slide on a designated run in the Winter Park ski resort.

Salynda Fleury brought a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against resort operator IntraWest, saying the run should have been closed because of the high avalanche danger at the time and resorts should be held responsible for slides that happen in areas they maintain. No signs were posted warning skiers of the risk.

Colorado’s Ski Safety Act limits the state’s $3-billion-a-year ski industry to $250,000 in damages from lawsuits filed by the family of those killed.

That cap has been tested many times since the legislation was enacted in 1979, but no jury or court ever has awarded injured skiers or bereaved families more than that amount. The law includes a list of the potential dangers that skiers assume the risk for, such as ice, packed powder, cliffs and trees but not avalanches specifically. However, it does include “snow conditions as they exist or may change,” and the Supreme Court ruled that covers inbound avalanches.

In a dissent, Justice Monica Marquez argued that unlike weather, snow conditions or terrain, the average skier does not have the training to assess the risk of an avalanche.

“Under today’s holding, even a family of novice skiers traversing the mountain must be expected to look uphill, gauge the steepness of the slope, the quantity of fresh snow, and the multitude of factors that avalanche forecasters consider, and assume the risk of being swept away by an avalanche,” she wrote.

According to the dissent, Montana’s ski law was changed last year to say that avalanches do not qualify as inherent dangers, and Alaska ski operators can be held liable if they do not adhere to their avalanche-control plans.

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