House realignment bill still poses threat to Kansas schools
By Keith Nagy
(Sunday, March 6, 2016)
On Jan. 21, 2016, a proposed piece of legislation was referred to the Kansas House Committee on Education. Labeled as House Bill 2504, the proposal called for consolidation of school districts and the shutdown of many small schools across the state. Though the bill was abandoned, educators and administrators are still concerned about the reemergence of this statute.
“There was no way it was going to pass or gain traction in an election year, but it will be back,” Silver Lake Superintendent Tim Hallacy predicted.
Overseer of a 3A school, Hallacy said that this legislation would impact his district. Furthermore, he claimed Silver Lake would not be the only school affected by House Bill 2504.
“You’re going to have schools in 99 of the 105 counties consolidate into one under that bill. In the remaining six, you would also have impacts on some, if they were under 1,500 [students], like Silver Lake,” Hallacy said.
The consolidation clause would likely force Silver Lake to merge with Seaman USD 345, which is already a 5A high school. Hallacy asserted that this would cause unfavorable consequences for transferring students.
“There would be, simply because you’re moving into a system with a much larger population, less opportunities,” Hallacy contended.
Jamie Manhart, Silver Lake’s journalism teacher and parent of three school-aged children, also insisted that this would create logistical difficulties.
“If we would consolidate, there is a possibility that my children would be going to a different building. Right now, we live two blocks away from the school. We can walk to school. Having to be bussed or having my husband or me drive our kids to school every day would be a major inconvenience on so many levels,” Manhart said.
She also stated that the small-town charm of Silver Lake is something attractive to her.
“I think there are so many more advantages for my kids in going to a smaller school. I feel like the expectations are higher. In a small town and a small school, everyone knows you. I feel like in a larger school district, my kids would become just a face or a number,” Manhart remarked.
This affirmation of small-town values is not uncommon, and Hallacy also cited the rural environment as an allure for him and his family.
“As a parent, I chose to educate my students at a small school in a small community because of the amount of opportunities they are going to have, which is more in a small school. The sense of community is greater in a small school setting,” Hallacy said.
Peyton Fergola, Silver Lake sophomore, was also uneasy at the thought of being consolidated into the Seaman school district.
“We have such different cultures within our schools. I think it would be hard for the students merging,” Fergola commented.
Silver Lake Art Teacher Tiffany Wiles confirmed that a clash of cultures could certainly be a problem.
“Students, especially here in Silver Lake, would need to get used to large class sizes. I think that would be the biggest hurdle for them because they’re not used to having to share teacher attention,” Wiles said.
Not only could this bill affect the school, but Hallacy said the effect would be detrimental to the entire community.
“We are the largest employer in our community by far. So, ultimately, that bill could have a tremendous negative impact on the finances of this community as well as if you lose the 7-12 building, you would lose your town’s identity, too. And that’s happened in other communities,” Hallacy noted.
There is an obvious gloom-and-doom aura coming from dissenters of this legislation, but what is the root cause of this dilemma? According to Wiles, it may just be politics as usual.
“I think our legislature waits for the guard of Kansas citizens to be down, so they can pass the things that they want. I also think it is a major goal of our current legislature to privatize education as much as possible, and consolidating school districts will be one way they will be able to do that,” Wiles commented.
Hallacy contended that Silver Lake is fortunate to have the representation it currently does.
“Both Representative Patton and Senator Kelly have been very proactive for our school and our community. We visit a lot about pending legislation and talk about the potential impact on students, teachers, and the community,” Hallacy said.
Senator Kelly and Representative Patton will be in Silver Lake this Saturday, March 12, to meet with citizens and answer questions about the current legislative session. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. at the Silver Lake Senior Citizens/Community Center.
Hallacy said the problem lies in the government attempting to curtail its own imprint.
“The government, because of their tax cuts, cannot afford the level of services that they have now. So, they’re going to have to continue to reduce the footprint of government and their expenses, and a chunk of that will come from public education,” Hallacy explained.
Many teachers and administrators at Silver Lake overwhelmingly came to a consensus on how to block the bill.
“Register to vote the minute you turn 18, and then actually go out and vote because voter turnout in Kansas is historically low, and it’s very important to make our legislature education-friendly,” Wiles responded.
Wiles’ comments about electoral participation are supported by statistics. In 2014, Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State, reported that voter turnout in the state was the lowest it had been in the 21st century.
“We are a representative democracy, and that is based on participation. It is vitally important that people not only voice their opinion, but do so through their vote,” Hallacy concurred.
Hallacy also noted that the district was taking steps to improve voter turnout amongst younger voters.
“We will be working with the League of Women Voters to have a voter registration drive for students who will be turning 18 in time to vote. We will also open that up and be glad to share that opportunity with the community,” Hallacy added.