Consolidation Heats Up

HB 2728 would greatly accelerate the pace of school district consolidation in Kansas. It is sponsored by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Overland Park). The full bill is available on the Legislature’s web site in PDF form as an 8-page piece of legislation.

It requires all school districts to have an FTE enrollment of at least 10,000 students, and creates an ongoing mechanism (a once-a-decade consolidation requirement) to ensure that becomes the legally required minimum size of all districts in the state.

According to the Comparative Performance and Fiscal System database maintained by KSDE, only seven districts (out of approximately 300) in the state were that large as of the 2008-09 school year, that last year for which numbers are available. Those districts (district numbers in parenthesis) are:

  1. Wichita (259): 45,579.7 full-time equivalent students
  2. Shawnee Mission (512): 26,579.0
  3. Olathe (233): 25,190.1
  4. Blue Valley (229): 19,939.4
  5. Kansas City (500): 18,427.1
  6. Topeka (501): 12,903.4
  7. Lawrence (494): 10,418.4

Together, they enroll 148,618.6 FTE students, or one-third of the state’s total enrollment. (Source: Total Expenditure by District report, KSDE)

The legislation creates a “reorganization” commission to draw the lines. It would have 11 members who could draw on the help of KSDE as well and various legislative offices.

It also creates uniform requirements of what school boards will look like: 6 members elected on a ward system, and 1 elected in an at-large position. Local boards of education would keep a substantial amount of authority, as they would hire the superintendent, adopt budgets, establish policies, engage in strategic planning, and oversee the curriculum.

The legislation also establishes means for dealing with existing bond debt and other fiscal matters.

Regional education service centers (already in existence) would be responsible for bulk purchases of textbooks and other matters. They may gain substantial powers as a result of this act, though to be honest, I’m not sure what these organizations have the authority to do right now. The language of the bill seems to grant (or recognize) substantial authority, including the authority to develop tests, curriculums, professional development programs, ESL programs, special education programs, oversee student transportation (including scheduling bus routes), process payrolls, and prepare reports required by state or federal governments. Still, the legislation also calls for school districts to have central administrations (I’d prefer more use of school-based management) that have substantial authority.

One interesting feature is that the bill requires each district to provide distance learning, which may be a positive development (I’ve written favorably of the possibilities of online schooling).

Whatever you think about district consolidation, the bill has some strong measures related to accounting. For example, it requires school districts to use a common chart of accounts, which is not currently used, and institutes some reporting requirements. The goal is to make it easier for citizens and policy makers to compare districts. It takes some powers of accounting oversight away from KSDE and gives it to the Kansas State Board of Education, which I’m not sure is a positive development, given that the board has been a political football over the years.

The result would be a very different landscape. Currently, 298,996 students (using numbers from the 2008-2009 total expenditure report) attend districts that would have to be consolidated. Divide that number by 10,000 and you have 30 districts. Add those to the seven that already meet the standard, and you’re looking at 37 districts. I’d like to see some of the larger districts broken up, actually, which could mean a total number of perhaps 45 after the dust settles.

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