Clipped From The Salina Journal
GREAT PLAINS THE SALINA JOURNAL T EDUCATION Small schools face extinction School finance formula may force them to close down By ANDREW BACH The Gareleii Cil)' Telegram HEALY — Grain elevators tower over this town, but passing through Healy on Kansas Highway 4, it's hard to miss the school. The brown brick building that serves as daytime home to students in the Healy School District is on the extreme northwest corner of town. There are two paved streets in Healy, K-4 and the road to the school, though that road is dirt a few feet past the playground. Only the conspicuously large Methodist church rivals the school in terms of size or seating capacity There is probably no danger of the church closing up shop anytime soon — but the same cannot be said for Healy's school. Healy's school district was singled out as being too small by the school district boundary study commissioned by the Kansas Legislature. Results of the study were presented in a joint session of the House and Senate Education committees in early January Those results seem to point to consolidation, or an end to schools like Healy. "It didn't come as a real surprise to me," said Healy Superintendent Wayne Lindsey, who said he wasn't pleased with the findings. He called the study's approach "flawed" for focusing "Is Healy going to he here next year? Yes. Ten years from now... I don't know." Wayne Lindsey Healy superintendent of schools only on test scores from one year. And he wasn't alone. Moscow School District was- named in the study as one of 28 Kansas districts identified as having "a combination of lower than expected pupil performance and much higher than expected per pupil spending." Larry Phillippi, Moscow superintendent, said judging a district based on one year of low test scores is ridiculous. And in a small district, if a few students blow the test it can have serious consequences. "The bottom line in this study is money," Phillippi said. "They don't care about low test scores if you don't spend a lot of money" With school consolidation a third-rail issue in Kansas — touch it and die — area legislators have said the study is likely to be shelved. Nevertheless, the reality is that many small school districts are in danger of closing or consolidating. But, Phillippi said, Moscow likely won't be among them. "Moscow itself has grown 25 percent; we're actually larger than we've ever been," he said of the school's 214 students. Healy isn't as large, but as long as the students are still being served and the money is in the bank, there won't be talk of consolidation, Lindsey said. "Students who are graduates from Healy, Kansas, can compete, and the minute we can't we're not going to need the state to have to tell us what to do or some fly-by-night study out of Denver," Lindsey said. Nearby Utica, with which Healy shares an athletic program, didn't need the state to tell it, either — but Utica will not have a high school in 2001-02. Lindsey said his district is going through some tough times, but he's not at the point where he needs to turn out the lights yet. "Is Healy going to be here next year? Yes. Ten years from now ... I don't know," Lindsey said. His district had good luck this year. Healy gained 20 students last fall to put its districtwide enrollment at 124, and the district may receive a few more students when Utica is no longer an option. And at a per-student rate of $9,000 from the state, Healy will welcome anyone willing to fill a desk. The financial pressures on schools are not going down, though. Utility bills are on a rapid ascent, and high-quality teachers are becoming increasingly scarce. While the 20-student increase has given Healy a cushion to deal with unexpected gas costs, the teacher quandary is not going away, Lindsey said. The district is competitive with a $29,000 base salary, but it can't afford to offer health insurance, he said. Moscow and Healy administrators say they still can offer high caliber opportunities to their students. Moscow offers 40 hours of college credit, anatomy and Cisco Systems Certification classes. Healy has enviable facilities and a range of classes through interactive television and cooperation with nearby Dighton, Lindsey said. The boundary study singled out these schools and presented a plan for a contentious consolidation. Even if the legislature doesn't codify that plan, the schools might still be forced to consolidate because of the current finance formula, Lindsey said. "If you don't have bodies, you don't get money," Lindsey said. Although schools with low enrollment get a weighted per- student rate, it doesn't balance the scale, he said. Lindsey said consolidation isn't in the foreseeable future for his district, and it's not imminent or likely in Moscow, Phillippi said. As long as enrollments continue to fluctuate and costs continue to rise, the answer to the consolidation question for these small districts might not remain as optimistic.