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Archive for Thursday, July 13, 2000

Kansas BOE member announces resignation

July 13, 2000

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— A State Board of Education member whose status as a Kansas resident was in doubt has decided to resign rather than face an attempt to remove him from office.

Scott Hill, a Republican, plans to leave the board Monday. Hill maintains a ranch north of Abilene, but he also raises cattle and sheep on a ranch near Mosby, Mont. In June he voted in Montana's primary election.

Hill's decision to work, vote and have a home in Montana led to a legal challenge of the transfer of land between two school districts in Dickinson County. The board approved the transfer last month, and Hill's vote in favor of it was crucial.

Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall has threatened to seek Hill's removal from the board over questions about whether he is a Kansas resident.

"Anytime you can avoid going to court, it's good," said Mary Tritsch, Stovall's spokeswoman. "He made a good decision."

Hill announced his decision Wednesday in a letter to other Kansas board members. Chairman Harold Voth read the letter during the second day of the board's monthly meeting.

Hill did not attend the board's meeting Tuesday or Wednesday.

"Today with great sadness, I convey that the reality is I am no longer doing a service to either my family, nor my district," Hill wrote. "I must admit that I am very tired and saddened by the suffering my family has had to endure the last month as personal vendettas, launched against me, have affected them."

Hill had traveled from Montana to Kansas for past board meetings.

"I just re-evaluated where I was at and where I wanted to be," he said. "I wanted to be with my family rather than on the road all the time."

Hill had considered himself a Kansan because of the ranch in Abilene. He said he was purchasing it on contract from his father-in-law.

But other officials, including Gov. Bill Graves and other board members, had said publicly that Hill should have resigned when he established a home and business in Montana.

"I understand he still has property here, but his focus has changed," said board member Val DeFever, a Republican from Independence. "If you're not serving your constituents, then you need to make adjustments so your constituents are served."

Board member Linda Holloway, a Republican from Shawnee, said she knew Hill probably would resign but was sorry that he faced "harassment."

And Voth, a Republican from Haven, praised Hill as a strong board member who could ask penetrating questions and respond to tough ones about policy issues.

"I hate to see the guy not be on our board," Voth said. "He had an untenable situation, really."

Hill was part of a coalition of conservative Republicans that often clashed with moderate Republicans and Democrats on the 10-member board. Hill was in the majority last year when the board voted 6-4 to approve new science testing standards that de-emphasized evolution.

The same 6-4 split emerged on the transfer of school land in Dickinson County.

Under the plan approved by the board, 84.5 square miles in northwest Dickinson County would be transferred from the Chapman School District to the neighboring Abilene district.

Residents in the area are split over the transfer, and Chapman officials oppose it. Typically, two districts have agreed to a transfer when the state board approves it.

Chapman officials filed a lawsuit in Shawnee County District Court, arguing that the board's decision should be overturned. They said Hill's vote wasn't valid because he wasn't qualified to sit on the board.

Holloway described opponents of the transfer as impassioned.

"I'm sure they're trying to find anything they can to help their case," she said.

Graves had criticized Hill publicly and called the controversy surrounding the land transfer a mess. "The governor believes Mr. Hill made the right decision in resigning," said spokesman Don Brown. "He's pleased that this situation is not going to be drug out in the courts."

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