Topeka A move to consolidate two western Kansas school districts cleared its first obstacle Tuesday, winning approval from the State Board of Education.
The next decision belongs to voters.
By a 10-0 vote, the state board approved the consolidation of the Bazine and Ransom districts in Ness County. Voters will get their say on April 1. If approved, it would be the first true consolidation among districts in 18 years.
Consolidation would occur at the start of the 2004-05 school year.
Last year, the state board approved dissolving the West Graham district. The Hill City district took over its territory.
"This really is something," said Rod Bieker, chief attorney for the Kansas Department of Education. "Look for this to happen again. It takes some guts to do this."
Ransom superintendent Mike Kastle said the other two districts in Ness County were contacted. Ransom and Bazine officials met four times.
"After about the third or fourth meeting, we realized that the best mix right now is a Ransom-Bazine mix," Kastle said.
The new district will have about 220 students. Bazine and Ransom each will have a school with a kindergarten through fifth grade, while Ransom will get the high school and Bazine, the junior high.
The final graduating class at Ransom will have seven students, while Bazine's Class of 2004 will have four.
Kastle said during meetings that some residents wondered why the district was not consolidating with Ness City, which is about 12 miles closer. He said officials determined consolidating with Ransom represented the best move.
The two districts already have some ties. For example, Bazine Superintendent Jim Frank said the districts have been fielding joint eight-man football teams for the past five years as they faced declining enrollments. Ransom has lost 40 students over the past four years, while Bazine has lost 30, a trend expected to continue.
Blending academic standards will not be a problem, the superintendents said, noting that the four county districts had formed a curriculum consortium several years ago.
"Really, the communities have been good to us. They have been understanding," said Frank, adding that news reports about the state's budget crisis and education funding helped to inform residents.
Kansas is facing a budget deficit of about $312 million for the remainder of fiscal year 2003. Gov. Bill Graves has twice cut state spending, including a $17.5 million cut in school funding in August.
The superintendents did not know how much money would be saved through consolidation, though some staff will lose jobs.
Kastle said no staff will have their employment renewed after the 2003-04 school year.