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Archive for Sunday, December 9, 2001

s permission to dissolve

December 9, 2001

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— This summer, West Graham school board members expected enrollment for their district's elementary school in Morland to be close to the 10 students the state requires to keep a building open.

Nine showed up in August, and board members began the process of shutting down the school. They had already closed the high school in May, a decision that sent most of the district's 31 students to the neighboring Hill City district.

The West Graham board is seeking permission from the State Board of Education to dissolve the entire district and transfer its territory to the Hill City district. The state board is expected to approve a petition from both districts Wednesday.

West Graham would be the first school district to dissolve since the Lebanon district in north-central Kansas in 1983.

School consolidation has been a bitter subject in Kansas for four decades, causing legislators to hesitate to even discuss it. A state law in 1963 ordered consolidation, and it was upheld by the courts in 1965. The process of winnowing about 1,850 districts down to only 310 was completed in 1969.

Last year, legislators and the state board received a consultant's support that suggested 50 of the state's 304 remaining school districts could be collapsed to improve education and make the allocation of dollars more efficient. Legislators did little with the report.

The West Graham petition is a disappointment but not a surprise to area residents like Kaye Minium, president of the Citizens National Bank in Morland.

"We have realized that this is going to happen," she said.

Hill City Superintendent Steve Nilhas said the districts' relationship had been made easier by the fielding of joint athletic teams in recent years.

Minium said a school serves both to give a town an identity and to provide a social hub.

West Graham has seen its enrollment decline in the past decade, reflecting a trend in Graham County in northwestern Kansas. The county lost nearly 17 percent of its population from 1990 to 2000, according to the latest census.

The population in Morland declined almost 30 percent, from 234 to 164.

The Hill City and West Graham districts filed their petition on Sept. 10. Hill City's territory would increase by about one-third.

State officials had a Nov. 16 hearing in Morland with 21 people attending. Both districts spoke in favor of the disorganization, with no opposition.

Nilhas said adding the territory will increase the district's transportation costs, but it also will gain a tax base that will increase the amount it collects in property taxes.

Rodney Bieker, general counsel for the Department of Education, said the petition confirmed that the district could no longer operate adequately, adding, "You need so much money to keep a school open."

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