Ed leaders skeptical of plan to realign

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February 1, 2016 - 12:00 AM

Kay Lewis, Humboldt-USD 258 superintendent of schools, expressed concern Friday over proposed legislation that would pare the number of school districts — and correspondingly, school administrators — across the state.
Jack Koehn, her counterpart from Iola-USD 257, was even more blunt.
‘It’s crazy,” he said.
One reportedly likely scenario from the legislation would be to combine all three Allen County school districts — Iola USD 257, Humboldt USD 258 and Marmaton Valley USD 256 — into one.
While Kansas House Bill 2504 — currently under discussion by the House Education Committee — is pegged as one that would “realign” school districts, the maneuver is better described as consolidation, Lewis said.
Testimony on the proposed legislation is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Topeka. Lewis said she would submit written testimony expressing her concerns.
House Bill 2504 calls for school districts to realign starting July 1, 2017, and every 10 years thereafter.
Among the particulars:
— Counties with 10,000 students or fewer — such as Allen — would be realigned so there is only one school district for the county.
— After realignment, the number of school administrators and central office employees should not be much larger than the district with the largest enrollment — in this case, Iola’s.
Lewis said she interpreted the proposals as a means to reduce the number of school superintendents and other administrative employees across the state.
The ripple effect from such a change would “take away from our kids,” Lewis said.
Would building principals be required to add to their workloads to make up for the lost administration, she asked rhetorically. Lewis also noted that many superintendents carry multiple duties, such as overseeing transportation. Many also double as school principals.
“Administrators are managers,” she said. “They should be educational leaders in the community.”
Koehn described the proposal as “trying to find a solution that really doesn’t have a problem.”
“We’re as efficient as any state in the country when you look at quality and effiency,” Koehn said.
Lewis also wondered how school boards would change. Would each existing district retain the same boards?
“We know how important that is for small communities,” Lewis aid.
“We also have inter-local agreements with the ANW (Special Education Cooperative,)” Lewis said. “Those agreements would certainly have to change, but how? There are a lot of unknowns.”
Iolan Tony Leavitt, president of USD 257 Board of Education, echoed many of Lewis’ concerns.
“I don’t think there are the kinds of savings out there that some legislators think there would be,” Leavitt said. “I’ve talked to the folks from the KSDE (Kansas State Department of Education) and that’s their take as well.”
Leavitt’s other concern is one he says that should be a rallying cry for those who consider themselves conservative politically.
“I know many conservatives are for local control,” Leavitt said. “This bill does the opposite.”
“Does consolidation improve instruction?” Lewis asked. “I don’t see how it does. Is it best for the kids? I don’t think so.”
Both Lewis and Leavitt expressed doubts about the proposed legislation making it out of committee, much less becoming law.
Koehn said he, too, doubted the legislation would advance out of committee, “so I’m not going to get too worked up about it,” he said.
“But it’s still concerning,” Lewis said.

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