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Archive for Friday, February 7, 2003

District calls off merger

February 7, 2003

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— After suddenly abandoning a plan to consolidate with a neighboring school district, the Herndon school board again is grappling with how to balance its shrinking budget.

The Herndon and Atwood school boards agreed last month to merge, and had planned to ask voters in the northwest Kansas communities to approve the proposal April 1. The state school board had planned to consider the issue at a meeting next week.

But the school board in Herndon rescinded its earlier decision to consolidate during a meeting Wednesday, doing so in a way that raised questions about whether board members violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Board members arrived at the meeting with a prepared copy of a resolution to pull out of the agreement, although they had not met in public to request or draft the document; board member David Ketterl had hired a Dodge City attorney to draft the stop-action resolution.

Although the board's attorney, Jerry Gasper, said Ketterl's action was "not good boardmanship," he said the board could adopt the prepared resolution. He also said that because Ketterl acted on his own, the board did not violate the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Mike Kautsch, a Kansas University law professor and legal adviser for the Kansas Press Assn., questioned the board's action Thursday.

"The Kansas Open Meetings Act requires that binding action only be taken after public discussion has taken place, so if any private discussion took place prior to the meeting, the action would be suspect under the act," Kautsch said.

So heated is the consolidation issue that Herndon Supt. Kim Juenemann made arrangements for area law enforcement officers to attend the meeting.

Juenemann said the district didn't plan to investigate the possible violation of the Open Meeting Act. Instead, she is focused on slashing about $100,000 from the district's $900,000 budget.

The district has received progressively less money from the state as its enrollment has shrunk to 84 full-time equivalent students this year, down from 103 in the 1999-2000 academic year.

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