Svaty visits KCK, picks up legislative endorsements

Josh Svaty, second from left, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, visited Breit’s in Kansas City, Kansas, on Tuesday. Svaty chatted with Maria Unruh of Kansas City, Kansas, left; Erik Unruh of Kansas City, Kansas, second from right; and Rep. Pam Curtis of Kansas City, Kansas. (Staff photo)

Josh Svaty, a Democratic candidate for governor, visited Kansas City, Kansas, on Tuesday in an effort to energize his supporters and get out the vote.

He received 11 legislative endorsements on Tuesday, including five from Wyandotte County.

“We’re a week out from the primary,” Svaty said at his campaign event at Breit’s Stein and Deli, 412 N. 5th St., Kansas City, Kansas. “We’ve got to have people turn out to vote.”

He said like every other county in the state, the voters here have to get excited and fired up.

Svaty, Topeka, is a former legislator and a former Kansas agriculture secretary. Svaty is one of five Democratic candidates running for governor. Others include Arden Andersen of Olathe; Jack Bergeson of Wichita, Carl Brewer of Wichita, and Laura Kelly of Topeka.

Svaty’s running mate, Katrina Lewison, of Manhattan, is a West Point graduate originally from Hutchinson and Buhler, Kansas. She served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and is now a consultant and a school board member.

Originally from a farm family in Ellsworth, Kansas, Svaty on an earlier trip to Kansas City, Kansas, said he was in favor of lowering the sales tax on food, working on Medicaid expansion and restoring funding to schools. He also was in favor of finding a path forward for the children of immigrants.

“His campaign has a lot of momentum,” Rep. Pam Curtis, D-32nd Dist., said. Svaty is inspiring, forward-looking and ready to tackle the problems of the state, she said. “That’s the leadership we need in Topeka.”

She said there was a very good turnout for the Svaty meet-and-greet event on Tuesday at Breit’s.

State legislators from Wyandotte County who endorsed Svaty on Tuesday included Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-33rd Dist.; Rep. Curtis; Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-37th Dist.; Rep. Broderick Henderson, D-35th Dist.; and Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-31st Dist.

Other legislative endorsements for Svaty announced on Tuesday include Rep. Cindy Neighbor, D-18th Dist.; Rep. Adam Lusker, D-2nd Dist.; Rep. Eber Phelps, D-111th Dist.; Rep. Jason Probst, D-102nd Dist.; Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-95th Dist.; and Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, D-21st Dist.

The primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 7.

To see an earlier story about the Democratic primary for governor, visit
More election stories are under the Election 2018 tab,

Rep. Louis Ruiz, right, was one of five Wyandotte County legislators who endorsed Josh Svaty on Tuesday. On the left at the meet-and-greet at Breit’s Tuesday was Gerard Dye. (Staff photo)

KCK school board advances budget with flat mill levy rate

Dr. Jayson Strickland, right, at his first full meeting as acting superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools on Tuesday at the Central Office, 2010 N. 59th St., Kansas City, Kansas. In the center was Dr. Valdenia Winn, board president, and at the left was Wanda Paige, board member. (Staff photo)

by Mary Rupert

The first full meeting for Dr. Jayson Strickland in his role as acting superintendent was calm and short Tuesday. With no drama, a budget with a flat mill levy rate was advanced for the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools.

During the meeting, Dr. Strickland congratulated Dr. Kelli Mather, chief operating officer, and her team for completing the budget.

“I know that the budget work has been quite a task,” he said.

The new budget includes funding for additional social workers for all the schools, a 2 percent raise for classified staff, an expansion at the Fairfax Learning Center and a 5 percent increase in health insurance costs.

The mill levy under the proposed budget would stay the same as the past year at 49.39 mills, according to the budget document.

Assessed valuation has increased this year in Wyandotte County, and revenues are anticipated to be up around 1 to 2 percent, according to Dr. Mather.

The flat mill rate with an average increase in valuation means the average taxpayer may see a slight increase in taxes, although any actual increase would vary from one property to another, based on the individual property’s valuation increase.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14, at the district’s Central Office at 2010 N. 59th St., Kansas City, Kansas. The board voted unanimously, with no discussion, to advance the budget to the hearing.

Keeping the mill levy flat was the biggest goal this year, according to Dr. Mather. This goal required the district to use more cash, she said.

This year’s budget has an additional 31 social workers hired through district funding, she said, to serve all students. An additional 10 to 11 more mental health workers are through a pilot program with the state Department of Education, she added.

The budget also funds an expansion at the Fairfax Learning Center, where 25 additional students will be served, she said.

The district also faced a 5 percent increase in its health insurance costs this year, she said.

Classified staff members are receiving a 2 percent pay increase under a measure already approved by the school board, while certified staff pay is currently under negotiation, she said.

Dr. Mather said there was an increased cost to run the substitute teacher program this year.

Also, the overall general fund was increased because funds were lost as a result of the audit, she said. Students are counted Sept. 20, and at the district’s most recent audit, fewer at risk and bilingual students were counted, she said. She added she was certain that the number of poverty and bilingual students did not decrease, but parents need to complete the paperwork for students’ free and reduced lunches to be counted.

Despite the loss of funds from the audit numbers, the revenues are up about $4 million, she said, and there is $1.5 million for special education.

The district is at the 30 percent cap for the local option budget, and the board has decided not to seek additional budget authority, she said.

State education officials recommended that the district move $141,103 out of an old school retirement fund into the special education fund, she said. The district gets a little funding for this old school retirement fund, which has been obsolete about five years, from delinquent taxes that are paid.

Total expenditures of all funds were listed at $445,228,849, an increase of about $42.3 million. The operating expenditures of the general fund were listed at $160,265,200, compared to last year’s $158,462,405.

Expenditures of supplemental general funds, the local option budget under the operating funds, were listed at $51,314,913. The LOB rate of 13.533 mills is the same as last year.

The Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library tax rate also is the same as last year, at 9.711 mills.

The budget documents are online at the school district’s agenda at

District attorney responds on conviction integrity unit issue

Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree today sent a letter responding to the Unified Government Commissioners on the conviction integrity unit (CIU) proposal.

In his letter, which is printed in full at the end of this story, the district attorney noted that he had received requests for review of about 200 cases from persons who said they were wrongfully convicted, and of those, about 19 cases warranted potential further review.

The UG Commission on Monday night reached a consensus to advance the funding for the conviction integrity unit. At the same time, the Kansas City, Kansas, police chief on Monday sent a letter, also signed by the Wyandotte County sheriff, to the state attorney general asking for a review of the CIU program.

The chief and sheriff also asked for an independent review by the attorney general’s office of any case that proceeds through the CIU. The chief’s letter said the program could be expensive and that there were already provisions in state law to take care of those who were wrongfully convicted, without adding a new program.

“Without oversight or open access to procedures used in investigating these cases, Mr. Dupree’s CIU holds unchecked authority in determining the fate of convictions handed down from negotiated pleas and guilty verdicts from a jury,” the chief’s letter stated.

Although the funding for the CIU was placed in the UG’s budget, it would not immediately be placed under the district attorney’s portion of the budget, according to UG officials at the Monday night budget meeting, but instead would be placed in a separate fund under the administrator’s control, in order to wait for a response from the attorney general. The final budget is scheduled to be approved on Thursday, Aug. 2.

Unified Government Commissioner Tom Burroughs said today that he is a big supporter of law enforcement, and he said the police chief, sheriff and district attorney just need to sit down and talk things out. He also said that they all probably have the same goals.

Today District Attorney Dupree sent a response that addressed some of the concerns in the chief’s and sheriff’s letter.

One of Dupree’s points was that the mechanism in the same state law quoted by the chief’s letter would be used by the CIU in reviewing cases. The conviction integrity unit would use law students as interns, who are supervised by lawyers. Some of those law students already are provisionally approved to practice law, according to the district attorney’s letter.

District Attorney Dupree’s letter:

“To the Unified Government Board of County Commissioners:

“Following our Commission Meeting yesterday when members of the Community Liaison Board spoke about the need for the Conviction Integrity Unit, I was provided a copy of the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department’s letter regarding the funding of this Unit, written to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. I also observed the conversation via television, wherein funding of the Unit was approved, but concerns due to this letter were raised.

“First, I am deeply appreciative of this Commission’s clear commitment to fund the Conviction Integrity Unit. It is likewise heartwarming to see that the two largest Law Enforcement Agencies, along with their Fraternal Orders of Police, support efforts to review and correct wrongful convictions. I want to address some of the concerns expressed in both the letter and the Commission Meeting:

“1. After winning the Primary Election, but prior to being sworn in as District Attorney, I began to receive letters from incarcerated individuals and their families, claiming the inmate had been wrongfully convicted. In my 18 months as District Attorney, I have received requests for review on approximately 200 cases. Of those, a cursory review of the circumstances surrounding the investigation and conviction showed that only 19 warranted potential further review.

“2. Concerning the Lamonte McIntyre case: through a period of seven months spent reviewing the circumstances of his case, my office spoke with witnesses alleged by his counsel to be recanting prior testimony, or who had additional information. A portion of that process included speaking directly with members of the victims’ families, many of whom joined Mr. McIntyre’s request for a finding of manifest injustice.

“a. Based on that review, my office joined Mr. McIntyre’s request for a finding of manifest injustice. The Court made a finding of manifest injustice, which caused his conviction to be overturned. It is only upon an order of the court that any conviction can be overturned.

“3. The formalization and funding of the Conviction Integrity Unit would serve to ensure a routine process is used when reviewing these cases. The letter correctly asserts that K.S.A. 60-1507 is the mechanism by which these cases are reviewed. It was precisely that mechanism that was utilized in Mr. McIntyre’s case, and it is the same legal mechanism that will be used by the CIU moving forward.

“a. That process includes joining with the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Relief from the University of Kansas School of Law, as well as the Innocence Project Clinic from the University of Missouri – Kansas City; organizations that have been performing this work for decades. Those programs utilize law students as interns, supervised by a team of lawyers. Some of those interns, like the interns that work inside my office, are provisionally approved to practice law by the state Supreme Court prior to their graduation.

“b. Those 19 cases, and others as they arise, would be reviewed by those Innocence Projects, who are equipped to screen and gather additional information as necessary. Of those 19, those that warrant a more in-depth review would be forwarded to the CIU.

“c. Working in partnership with these organizations allowed my office to be in the position to request only the $162,000 funded by the Commission. Both organizations are funded independently.

“4. When the District Attorney’s Office has requested assistance, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office has always been a tremendous resource for this community. I am grateful that K.S.A. 75-704 grants a District Attorney the ability to request advice or counsel when needed.

“5. Finally, while the possibility exists that an individual whose conviction is overturned by the Court may receive compensation under HB 2579, our commitment to ensuring justice for the citizens of Wyandotte County through the CIU must be paramount.”

To see previous stories on this topic, visit