When I started this column about 6 years ago I promised myself that I would always focus on academic programs and try to stay away from athletics and politics. There have only been a few times when I have addressed the athletic side of Ottawa High School and those instances certainly deserved as much recognition as they received. To this point I have never addressed the political side of education as I typically feel that this column is best suited showcasing that great things our students and school are accomplishing. However, there is a time for everything and as my purpose has always been to do what is best for our students I think this particular issue needs and deserves to be discussed.
House Bill 2504 was introduced on January 21 and deals with the reconfiguration of school boundaries, otherwise known as consolidation. There are different components of this bill that deserve attention, however, in this column I will focus solely on how it will affect Franklin County and its residents if voted into law. The bill states that for counties in which there are less than 10,000 students the State Board will realign the school district boundaries so that there is only 1 school district for each such home county. I do not have the exact numbers from the other districts, however, if we utilize some deductive reasoning we can figure out that Franklin County would fall under this section of the bill. With Ottawa USD 290 housing about 2500 students and West Franklin, Wellsville, and Central Heights all enrolling less it would seem that our county would definitely have less than 10,000 students.
What does this mean for Franklin County?
Obviously this bill has not yet been approved and placed into law. However, if it were to become law there are certainly some guarantees. First, the four school districts (Ottawa, Wellsville, West Franklin, and Central Heights) would become 1 large school district under the leadership of a chosen district by the State Board in an effort to create greater efficiencies amongst school districts (Ottawa USD 290 has been recognized by the state as the lead district). The bill also states that districts that are consolidated will not be allowed to add supervisory administrators by more than 20% of what the new “home” district is currently employing. Finally, it states that any items owned by districts being “realigned” have the option to become controlled by the new “home” district but have to be approved for control by the State. Furthermore, the central offices of the “realigned” districts will be closed with some of the items housed within being controlled by the State to be auctioned off with any money gained being added to the State’s general fund.
What could this mean for Franklin County?
This is purely speculation on my part, however, I think it worth considering what may happen if the passage of this bill becomes a reality. First, and foremost, the idea of this bill is consolidation. I think that most of us could agree that 1 central office running 4 (what had prior been) different districts could create a number of inadequacies. Ultimately, in my opinion, this could lead to all high school students attending 1 county high school, 1 county middle school, and far fewer elementary schools. Another thought is that due to the county being 1 school district one would have to assume that the 4 current boards of education would be dissolved with 1 board of 7 members overseeing the entire county. There are a number of other concerns above and beyond these 2 that seem rather obvious.
Once again, I have tried to stay away from using this platform to discuss the politics of our state or how they may impact our students. However, in this case the impact of this bill, whether you believe it to be positive or negative, is certainly great. The future of our schools is not easy to define and, regardless of this particular bill, is going to change a great deal with the number of education related bills being discussed. If you would like to have more information about HB 2504 or the other bills currently in Topeka you can find it at www.kslegislature.org.
Dr. Ryan Cobbs