The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 13, 1996 · Page 50
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 50

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, October 13, 1996
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Page 50
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10 FRIDAY. OCTOBER 13, 1996 COMING HOME THE SALINA JOURNAC EDUCATION Hard Lessons Small schools worry about losing enrollment and funding •"', By LINDA MOWERY-DENNING Tlte Salina Journal M ORLAND — Emery Hart has worked in small school districts for almost two decades. At his current assignment, superintendent of the Morland School District in Graham County, he also serves as principal of the grade school and high school and as assistant football coach. "I like to get to know my students," said Hart, who worked for 16 years at Grinnell before moving to Morland three years ago. "I'm a firm believer in small schools. We don't have to worry about the crime the larger schools have and when a situation does come up, we can get right on top of it." But the job — or jobs in the case of Hart and many other small-school administrators — is not worry-free. Each year without fail, it seems, debate heats up over the state's school finance formula, only to fade in the final days of the Legislature. The formula was approved in 1992 after Kansas got into trouble with the courts over its old method of school funding. This past session, the issue was the statewide 35-mill property tax and its elimination. This next session, the property tax is again expected to take center stage, along with the formula's local option budget and low-enrollment weighting provisions. Both are essential to the survival of small school districts such as Morland, say administrators across north- central and northwest Kansas. "We have great concerns about what the Legislature is going to do," Hart said. "I don't see that they're going to help us out, especially if they take away the low enrollment category. They take that away, and we shut our doors." There is apprehension in the countryside over the future of rural schools. Such a mood is being fueled in part by a summer interim committee, which is studying the school finance formula "to find out what's working and what's not working and make it better than it is," said Sen. Barbara Lawrence, R-Wichita, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. The local option budget, for instance, allows local districts to supplement the money they receive from the state. Morland has approved the budget and "wouldn't be operating if we didn't have it," Hart said. Salina, a much larger school district, has been unable to convince voters of its need for more money. "The local option budget is obviously not working too well in many areas and that is certainly one of the major areas we're studying," Lawrence said. "With the inability of some communities to pass the local option, it has caused some of the same kinds of inequities that made us come under the gun with the courts in the first place." She said the committee also plans to look at declining enrollment. Morland this year has 111 students — an increase of nine from the 1995-96 school year. Natoma-Paradise has 150 students, an increase of 30. And • Haydite & Concrete Blocks • Precast Concrete • Brick • Building Material Supplies • Porter Paints • Overhead-Type Sectional Garage Doors & Openers • CECO Hollow Metal Doors & Frames • Fireplaces • Feed Bunks • Septic Tanks READY MIXED CONCRETE CONCRETE PRODUCTS 20 RADIO CONTROLLEDTRUCKS 913-827-7281 1100 WEST ASH* SAUNA • Residential Commercial " I think small schools will struggle, but I believe there will always be a place for us." - Superintendent JENNIE VESTAL, Clifton-Clyde Clifton-Clyde has 413 students, 15 more than the year before. Norton counted 817 students, nine more than a year ago. Other districts were not as fortunate. Hill City, Stockton, Phillipsburg and Ellis were all losers this fall. So was Clay Center, where enrollment fell by 52 students after four straight years of enrollment increases. "It was just one of those things that was a pleasant surprise," Hart said of Morland's increase. "There must be a small-school trend right now. People are moving to the small communities. But that doesn't mean declining enrollment isn't still a problem." His fear is that the Legislature will take away from the small schools to supplement the budgets of larger schools. To stop that from happening, Morland and other school districts several years ago formed the Kansas Education Coalition and hired two lobbyists to make their case in Topeka. Michael Specht, superintendent of the Natoma-Paradise District, is a member of the steering committee. As such, he is careful to avoid words or actions that could pit schools against each other because of size. "1 feel we need to support all of the schools, all of the kids, because all the kids have financial needs," he said. But, like Hart, he worries about the value legislators, the majority of whom live in the state's urban centers, place on services for rural Kansas. Schools, he and others argue, not only educate children, but they are necessary to a community's well being and growth — especially at a time when small towns are becoming an attractive alternative to urban life. "Legislators look at what it costs to operate a school," Specht said. "We have a whole bunch of farming people in this school dis- trict, in this area, who support the state of Kansas and that includes their taxes and the food they produce. These farm people have the same right to their school district as city people have to their school district. "Sometimes I worry that some small school districts may be forced into consolidation without the word ever being used. I would hope the Legislature would be fair to the small schools as well as the middle and large schools because we all have the same goal — we're trying to educate kids." To the east, in the Clifton-Clyde School District, Superintendent Jennie Vestal thinks rural Kansas may face another year of the status quo. And even if there are changes, she is not ready to panic. "I think small schools will struggle, but I believe there will always be a place for us," said Vestal, who attributes much of her success to her small-school education in Moscow in southwest Kansas. "I feel like people know we do a good job and there are enough concerned people who will help us stay open." Rep. Laura McClure, D-Osborne, has doubts. She said rural legislators have been put on notice by their urban counterparts that the state is tired of sending money to the sparsely-populated country. "I think it is important for people to realize that we're in a battle," she said. "There is a battle not only in education, but in telecommunications and all over the place. It's urban versus rural. They're only looking at the dollars on a business sheet. They don't realize we're not small because we want to be. "But what's most frustrating is that they don't realize that agri- culture is the backbone of Kansas. At one time, seven of 10 jobs in Kansas were related to agriculture. The people in the cities walk into a grocery store and think the food will always be there. They just don't under- . : stand." - ;••. Whether you prefer to live In the Country or In Town Has a home or property just right for you. The new 1997 Ford Expedition PP *», \M Jntrodijcing the new 1997 Ford The Expe<Jitl9fl i§,,th§ first spprt wheel drive, %8^d8p^|i^lly for with the Wfxvfti^^ a fomjl The Expedition utility vehicle thflt o Visit us at j/n % ?A$ LINCOLN MERCURY

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