Johanna Hecht, Kirsten Peterson
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Dozens of educators came to the Capitol last week to tell lawmakers they’re strongly opposed to a bill that would realign school districts in Kansas.
Kansas school superintendents and Board of Education members spoke against HB 2504 at a meeting of the House Education Committee.
“I’m concerned about this bill. It’s not specified what the structure of those school boards would look like, and it would take away opportunity for local voice and local control,” Mike Berblinger, Buhler school superintendent, said.
Opponents are unhappy that the bill will consolidate of many of the state’s smaller school districts. The bill provides that by July 2017, the state Department of Education will cut the number of school districts by half. The bill would form one countywide district in each county with fewer than 10,000 students. In counties with more than 10,000 students, districts would be realigned to ensure that each district in that county has 1,500 students. The education department would be required to repeat the realignment process every 10 years afterward.
“If house bill 2504 were to become a law, realignment, consolidation . . . tomayto… tomahto. However you want to interpret, it could force our four districts to become one,” said opponent Shawn Cardin from the Central Heights Board of Education. Cardin also said consolidation and mergers could result in tax increases.
Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, the author of the bill, tried to assure educators the bill would not harm Kansas schools. He offered a list of things the bill would not do. The bill, he said, would not close schools, result in the firing of any teachers or principals, change district boundaries, affect students, affect high school football teams, or increase the time students spend riding buses to and from school.
However, Tom Benoit of the Palco Board of Education and Schools for Quality Education, disagreed, saying the bill does the opposite of everything Bradford said.
Proponents of the bill explained that the realignment of school districts wasn’t the same as consolidation. Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, asked Nick Myers of the state’s Office of the Revisor of Statutes, if consolidation means to dissolve something and create something else in its place. Myers replied that this bill only realigns the districts.
Discussions on the bill continue Thursday.