Wimmer sees no future in studied consolidation
De Soto USD 232 found itself in the middle of the state of Kansas’ performance audit report for K-12 education released Feb. 8.
However, the audit wasn’t cause for great concern, said Ron Wimmer, USD 232 superintendent of schools.
The audit focused on the reorganization of Kansas school districts as a means for potential cost savings.
While the district did not take part in the study, it was used as an example of how the state could save money by consolidating school districts in one of two options.
“We’ve received no contact from the post audit committee or the state,” Wimmer said.
The audit used two sets of options to identify districts for possible consolidation.
The first would combine districts that had fewer than 400 students or that covered less than 200 square miles. That would reduce the number of districts from 293 to 266, close 50 schools and eliminate 230 teachers and administrators.
The second option would merge districts with fewer than 1,600 students into districts with equal or larger enrollments. That option would reduce the state’s districts to 152, close 304 schools and eliminate 1,532 teachers and administrators.
The state’s costs for school districts would drop by about $17.9 million under Scenario 1, and by about $138.4 million under Scenario 2.
USD 232 was would fall under the second scenario. In which case, the district would be merged with Eudora’s USD 491, to create USD 2034 De Soto - Eudora. While, USD 232 has an full-time equivalent enrollment of 6,052.3 students, Eudora’s USD 491 has an enrollment of 1,395.8 FTE students, qualifying for Scenario 2.
According to the audit, after consolidation the new district’s enrollment would be 7,448.1 students, covering 147 square miles. The percentage of free lunch would be 11.1 percent and 3.3 percent of students would be considered bilingual.
The assessed valuation per pupil in the new district would be $61,043.
Alvie Cater, director of communications for USD 232, said the district only found out about the report on Jan. 9.
“It’s, at this point, one of the options the Legislature will consider when trying to discuss the decline in state revenue,” Cater said.
However, for consolidation to even be considered many other factors must be taken into consideration, he said.
Factors include the district’s mill levies, parent input and actual cost savings.
“I think most importantly you have to know how important the schools are to a community,” Wimmer said. “The importance can not always be determined by putting a price tag on of having a school in your local community.”
Wimmer said the study probably would not go much further.
“From what I’ve seen recently, I think the financial savings to the state were not as significant as they first were perceived to be,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this didn’t go anywhere. There is opportunity for local districts to consolidate on their own initiative, and I think that is a much better way to address the issue than looking at a total cost point of view.”
The last major reorganization of Kansas school districts occurred in the 1960s. As a result of the actions the Legislature took at that time, the total number of school districts was reduced from about 2,600 in 1960 to 304 by 2000.
Since 1999, several voluntary consolidations have reduced the number of districts from 304 to 295 in 2008-2009. In 2008-2009, 10 districts had fewer than 100 students enrolled.
The audit concludes, “The analyses we performed in this audit showed that reorganizing the system so there are fewer school districts has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of the system overall. Equally significant issues would need to be addressed before any widespread reorganization could happen, including the impact on students, individuals districts, and local communities.”