Attorney representing more than half of KS school districts pushing back against skyrocketed gas bills

Published: Apr. 15, 2021 at 4:15 PM CDT
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NEWTON, Kan. (KWCH) - Eyewitness News is taking a closer look at a massive investigation involving school districts across the state. The problem districts are facing is gas bills up to $200,000 after February’s cold snap.

The Kansas Association of School Board Boards has hired an attorney to look into possible price gouging. The Newton school district, which saw a gas bill more than six times what it usually receives, is among the districts planning to fight back.

While Newton’s near-$190,000 gas bill drew attention in the Wichita area, Eyewitness News has learned that Newton is farm from alone. The attorney looking into schools’ gas bills will potentially represent up to 178 public school districts across the state. Kansas has 309 public school districts. There is also word that the University of Kansas and Kansas State University are involved in the case.

With what it’s facing, the fear for the Newton school district is that ultimately, students could pay the price.

“What we want the public to understand (is) the ultimate losers are students because when there’s less money within the school district, there’s less money to fund programs. There’s less money,” Newton Public Schools Director of Business Services David Decker explained. “This is something that is not going to come without a cost. You pay for the salary of nearly four teachers, and we’re going to spend that in one month. And so when you think about it in those terms, then you can really see the impact of what we’re being asked to do in a single month, and how that’s going to affect our school district and our kids.”

JIm Zakoura is the attorney representing the districts across Kansas, possibly 178 of them.

“When you have a natural gas bill that’s five times what it otherwise would be, then that’s taken away from all the other school functions that could be served with that instruction and various other items in the school,” Zakoura said. “And so yes, we are very outraged about this. We’re trying to bring it down to more reasonable levels and to really bet a very accurate view of what happened here.”

Zakoura said he believes there’s a strong case fighting back against the skyrocketed gas bills, especially after Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issued a state of emergency on Feb. 14. He said once the governor makes a disaster declaration, there are provisions that prevent price gouging. He’s concerned price gouging is exactly what the district’s are dealing with.

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