Archive for Thursday, November 15, 2007

Splitting school district unlikely

November 15, 2007

After a De Soto USD 232 Board of Education meeting earlier this month, board member Randy Johnson said he would like the coming district growth management survey to ask residents if the district should be split.

The option might be popular in De Soto, where many in recent years have expressed a desire to be rid of the Shawnee side of the district and its constant need for new schools.

Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner for the Kansas Department of Education, said a any such split would require special action by the Kansas Legislature.

"It has been tried before but has never been approved," he said.

Dennis said bills have been introduced to the Legislature but never left committee. Odds are, a district split into two won't happen, he said.

"One of the concerns was it would create more districts, but the incentive is to create less," Dennis said.

Although there is no mandate to consolidate districts, it is encouraged with state aid advantages and budget advantages, Dennis said.

"There has been some degree of success," he said.

Before unification in 1963 there were 1,840 school districts in the state, although 183 had already closed. Now there are 296.

Dennis was not able to comment on how a school district would manage debt and division of assets if a split were to happen because details would have to be outlined in the legislative bill.

District communications director Alvie Cater emphasized that the district is not considering a split; however, he noted that if one were to happen it would not be as beneficial as some patrons might think.

When suggestions are made to split the district into two, they usually include keeping Starside Elementary, Lexington Trails Middle and De Soto High schools and the Technology Center as part of one district in De Soto. However, those schools all have debt issued in order to pay for them. That debt would likely be left up to De Soto taxpayers.

"Their property taxes to finish paying for the schools would likely triple," Cater estimated.

Another issue that would be difficult if the district split would be drawing the boundary lines when it comes to Mill Creek Middle and Mize Elementary schools, which serve both sides of the district.

Although splitting districts hasn't happened in Kansas, transferring territories is more common, Dennis said.

"We get transfer of territory requests two or four times a year," Dennis said.

Most of those requests involve an agreement made by two school districts to move a portion of land from one district to another.

Transfers also can be requested by petition, which is more controversial, Dennis said.

"There are people who have gone to a neighboring district and said 'I want to transfer,' and the neighboring district said 'No I'm not interested,'" he said.

When a petition for transfer is filed, the Kansas State Board of Education appoints a hearing officer who listens to arguments from both districts and reports back to the board. Unlike the recent situation between the Kansas City, Mo., School District and the Independence School District, voters would not get to decide a transfer petition. In Kansas, it would be up to the state board of education.

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