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Officials bristle at idea of school consolidation

Staff writer

Board of education presidents in Marion and Hillsboro reacted strongly to the recent proposal to consolidate nearly 300 Kansas school districts into seven.

Republican Rep. Steven Brunk of Wichita earlier this month floated the idea of drastically reducing the number of school districts in order to help shore up a $710 million budget shortfall.

“There are seven service centers in the state of Kansas that perform ordering tasks and perform other functions,” Brunk told KSN.com. “We could have seven school districts and still have schools maintain their own schools where they are.”

“I don’t think it’s very reasonable,” said Chris Sprowls, president of the Marion-Florence board of education. Sprowls said that “some form of consolidation is coming in the next ten years,” but believes going from about 300 districts to a dozen or less is a bad idea.

“To me, that’s just adds another level of bureaucracy,” Sprowls said. “We’d still have local people to make local decisions, but it seems like the state wants to take away local control when all is said and done. You won’t save a lot of money.”

Sprowls said saving money happens when buildings are closed, and that he does not put a lot of stock in proposals made before the legislature completes its session. Ideas like this don’t usually make it through the first round of talks, Sprowls said.

A three-judge district court panel in December ruled that state funding of Kansas schools is inadequate, but school officials are bracing for more cuts as the state looks to fix the budget shortfall.

“There probably should be some consolidation,” Sprowls said. “But I don’t know if whittling them down to 7 is it. That’s pretty radical approach.”

Sprowls added, “Maybe they have a great idea… You can’t get blood out of rock. The more the state takes over, the less efficient it is. We’re pretty good with the dollars we get. I have a lot of faith in our local board. They’ll get it right. They live next to everyone. People in Topeka don’t and aren’t as accountable.”

Eddie Weber, president of the Hillsboro board of education, said Brunk’s proposal is “going way overboard.”

“I don’t’ think it’s realistic at all,” Weber said. “I know consolidation is on their minds, but that’s going way overboard. It would be like consolidating all representatives and senators into seven districts. How would they like it?”

Weber, who believes that consolidating district administrations wouldn’t generate the revenue legislators hope, said he fears what the state legislature might do next.

“I don’t know how they are going to get more blood from us without drastic measures,” Weber said. “They’re killing rural America… There’s a real problem going on in Kansas, and something will have to be done before it gets better. We’re at a breaking point.”

Last modified Jan. 15, 2015

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