Realignment of districts opposed in House

Pat Happer

Photo by Clarke Davis
Jefferson West Superintendent Pat Happer


by Clarke Davis
A bill introduced in the Kansas House of Representatives would cause the consolidation of all six Jefferson County school districts into one district.
A hearing was held Feb. 3 before the House Education Committee and representing Jefferson County in opposition to the bill was Pat Happer, superintendent of Jefferson West USD 340.
Happer points out that it is not called “consolidation” in the bill, but rather “realignment.”
House Bill No. 2504 would reduce the number of school districts in Kansas to almost the same number as the 105 counties, with a few exceptions.
The bill states that in counties where there are fewer than 10,000 students, the state board shall realign district boundaries so that there is only one school district. There are approximately 3,500 students in the six districts in Jefferson County.
The bill appears to be aimed at cutting administrative and supervisory positions and selling off surplus property for the state treasury.
The bill does not address who would be the local authority or what would constitute a local board of education.
Happer posed the question: “Is there any research that supports that the changes advocated through the passage of this bill would improve the education of our students?”
The superintendent pointed out a number of problems that would render the proposition unfair for local schools. Using a formula to limit the number of administrative positions that includes principals, food service directors, transportation directors, and numerous others now numbering 73 would see the loss of 57 people in Jefferson County while a neighboring district with only 200 more students and 56 supervisory people would lose two.
Happer met with all the superintendents in the county before going to the capitol and said they challenge the bill on the basis of what is best for the kids. “We feel that there should be appropriate leadership in every building,” he said.
“We feel it is important that each school in our combined district have the same opportunity for leadership driving the curriculum and maintaining a safe environment as those in districts with 1,500 or more students,” Happer told the committee. “Doesn’t the state constitution delegate the right and responsibility of hiring of staff to the local school board? Does that include how many teachers, classified staff, and administrators to employ?”
“It is our premise this bill would limit a local board’s ability and right to hire those persons necessary to facilitate a well functioning district,” he said.
Under the bill the state board of education would be empowered to sell off any surplus property once the districts were realigned. This could include vehicles and a building and land used for a central office that is being closed and this money would go to the state treasury.
Happer sees this as a case of theft and a violation of the state constitution.
“It is our understanding these facilities and vehicles were paid for with local taxes and belong to the local school districts,” he said.
Happer told the committee that many people purposely locate in smaller communities in search of small-school environments for their children.
“Passage of HB2504 would unfairly penalize small school districts across the state by taking away this opportunity for parents,” he said.
“Jefferson West would not be this size if people chose not to move here,” he said.
The bill does give an out for any districts that choose to consolidate prior to the law taking affect July 1, 2017, but the state board would be required to realign the boundaries every 10 years.
Happer does not believe the bill has much chance of passage. “It’s sticking a toe in the water,” he said, noting that legislators are not going back to their home districts during an election year and face school consolidation.
He was right about that. On Saturday the chairman of the House education committee said they will not move forward with the bill since there were too many unknown factors related to it.
Happer was one of 12 appearing in opposition and 30 presented written testimony opposed. Three proponents spoke to the committee.
Before the turn of the century there were over 9,000 school districts in Kansas. In 1958, just prior to unification, there were 2,794 districts. Unification in the mid-1960s reduced the number to 286.
Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, defends his bill stating that it does not close schools, get rid of mascots, or anything else other than centralize administration. Apparently there would have to be legislation allowing for additional school boards within one district, however.

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Posted by on Feb 18 2016. Filed under The Vindicator. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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