Kansas school district realignment bill stalls amid concern

The Wichita Eagle

The chairman of the Kansas House Education Committee says it’s unlikely that any action will be taken on a bill that would force the consolidation of more than half of the state’s school districts.

Rep. Ron Highland, a Wamego Republican and chairman of the committee, says that after a heated hearing on the bill Wednesday, it’s unlikely to go anywhere soon.

“There was so much information presented during the hearing that it’s going to take us some time to filter through that,” Highland said. “A lot of suggestions were made, and some of them were actually very good.”

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that even if the consolidation bill passes, its supporters prefer to call it a “realignment” bill because it only calls for consolidating administration, not schools.

Baldwin City is among the school districts that would be forced to merge or consolidate with another district in Douglas County if the bill were to pass. The district’s superintendent, Paul Dorathy, says he’s had a number of parents contact him with concerns.

“I think they’re concerned about losing our identity,” Dorathy said. “I think they’re concerned about losing our schools. And I think they’re concerned about losing local decision-making on what happens in our schools.”

There are still other school-related bills pending in the Legislature, including one that would put tighter controls on schools’ ability to issue bonds.

School leaders say the total of all these proposals is taking a toll on the morale of their teachers and staff.

“I think it’s the perception that there isn’t very much support for public schools in Topeka,” said Denis Yoder, superintendent of the Perry-Lecompton school district in Jefferson County.

Rep. Valdenia Winn, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, said she understands why school districts see the Legislature’s moves as disruptive, and she said it could have long-term negative repercussions for public schools in the state.