Archive for Sunday, July 30, 2006

Schools shrink as Kansans pull up stakes

July 30, 2006


This month, as most schools prepared for students to return to classes, three Kansas school districts consolidated and a fourth was dissolved.

For rural school districts, the numbers don't look good.

"Only 22 out of our 105 counties have grown since 2000, and only a few of them - very few - are growing at a pace that's equal to what we saw in the 1990s," said Jim Hays, a demographer with the Kansas Association of School Boards. "If that keeps going, it'll have a huge effect on schools."

Many more of the state's rural districts, he said, will be forced to consolidate or dissolve.

"It's hard to run a school if you don't have the kids," Hays said, noting that 59.8 percent of the state's 300 school districts lost enrollment last year.

On July 1, three school districts consolidated with neighboring districts; a fourth was simply eliminated altogether:

¢ Decatur County - USD 295 Prairie Heights in Jennings dissolved after enrollment fell to fewer than 15 students.

¢ Jewell County - USD 104 White Rock, enrollment 100, merged with USD 278 Mankato, enrollment 213.

¢ Washington County - USD 221 North Central, enrollment 116, merged with USD 222 Washington, enrollment 369.

¢ Republic County - USD 455 Cuba, enrollment 100, consolidated with USD 427 Belleville, enrollment 455.

Republic, Washington, Jewell and Decatur counties all border Nebraska.

"Those four counties have some of the highest populations of elders - people over 65 - in the state," said Xan Wedel, information specialist at the Policy Research Institute at Kansas University.

"They're part of what I call the 'T Zone' - that top tier of counties and a row down the middle that skirts around Salina," she said. "For whatever reason, young people aren't staying in those communities."

In Republic, Washington, Jewell and Decatur counties, at least 25 percent of the population is 65 or older.

That's not news to Cuba's city clerk, Pam Reynolds.

"We just don't have as many kids as we used to," she said. "It seems that after they grow up and move away, they don't move back. There aren't as many jobs as there used to be."

The school-district merger, she said, was expected. Though the district covers 205 square miles, it had fewer than 100 students.

"It scares me to think about what's going to happen to our little town," Reynolds said. "But we keep our chins up and keep moving forward."

Five years ago, Kansas had 304 school districts. Today, it has 296.

Census estimates show that between 2000 and 2005, eight Kansas counties - Wallace, Scott, Republic, Jewell, Geary, Greeley, Lane and Ness - had population losses of 10 percent or more.

Ness County suffered a 12.9 percent loss; Lane and Greeley counties each lost 12.1 percent.

Population trends

¢ Kansas accounts for less than 1 percent of the nation's population. That's as low as it's been since statehood. ¢ Five counties out of 105 - Johnson, Sedgwick, Shawnee, Wyandotte and Douglas - account for 49.5 percent of the state's population. ¢ Nine counties - Rawlins, Wallace, Logan, Gove, Greeley, Hamilton, Hodgeman, Clark and Comanche - have fewer than three people per square mile. Douglas County has 219 people per square mile. ¢ Fifty-seven of the state's 105 counties lost population between 1990 and 2000. According to census estimates, only 22 counties in Kansas have experienced population growth since 2000. ¢ Though some of the state's urban school districts are growing, the state had 225 fewer students last year than in 2004-05. Source: Kansas Association of School Boards.

"We have 100 fewer students today than we did when I started teaching here back in 1989-90 - that's a 30 percent drop in about 15 years," said Ken Bockwinkel, principal at junior and senior high school in Tribune in Greeley County, which borders Colorado.

Bockwinkel pinned the declines on the region's farm economy.

"It just doesn't take as many people to operate a farm as it did 20 years ago," he said.

WaKeeney school Supt. Robert Scheib and his two brothers grew up on a farm south of Dighton in Lane County.

"My dad is 77; he's still there, farming," Scheib said. "My brothers and I - none of us are there, we're all doing other things."

In recent years, few school districts have been hit as hard as WaKeeney.

"Out of 500 kids, we lost 100 in two years - from 2000 to 2002," Scheib said. "One of those years, we graduated 72 seniors and took in 11 kindergartners."

Scheib said he expected enrollment to level off at about 380 students this fall; 360 by 2010.

The 707-square-mile district covers most of Trego County, making future consolidation unlikely.

"If we were any bigger, kids would end up being on busses more than an hour," Scheib said. "There's a point where - because of the distances involved - consolidation just isn't practical."

WaKeeney voters recently passed a $2.8 million bond issue, resulting in major improvements in facilities.

"We have science classrooms that are state-of-the-art; we have a new commons area and a 1,600-seat, double-gym fieldhouse," Scheib said. "Compared to where we were six years ago, we're in incredible shape."

Other districts are not.

"We have 18 or 20 counties with one high school. How many are out there that have two or three and could have one? I don't know," said Hays of the school board association.

"I suspect that will be the next public policy debate."

Last year, 60 Kansas high schools had 100 or fewer students.


Godot 11 years, 7 months ago

"Kansas is about to be the next Mississippi."

Worse than that. At least Mississippi is growing.

lunacydetector 11 years, 7 months ago

if the schools are shrinking, why are we feeding them with more money?

Godot 11 years, 7 months ago

HGA, the post you keep bringing up about Kevin and 9-11 was tongue-in-cheek, to make a point. Obviously you did not get it.

Godot 11 years, 7 months ago

Hey, wetmare has now given capitalism the liberal golden stamp of approval: capitalism, unfettered, demonstrates evolution.

I'll go with that.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years, 7 months ago

Money talks. "Something else" walks.

It's a very simple equation: where there is commerce, there will be people. Take away financial opporunities, and people cannot stay. The candidate for governor who says "I will make bringing JOBS to Kansas my top priority" will get my vote. Kansas is about to be the next Mississippi.

ASBESTOS 11 years, 7 months ago

THis is about schools shutting down, not a God/No God discussion.

It is economic based, pure and simple. Putting forth any other discussion is just putting a dress on a pig.

johngalt 11 years, 7 months ago

Source: State Board of Education, National Center for Education Statistics and KU's Center for Applied Economics.

Jayhawk226 11 years, 7 months ago


You have my sincere apology as I just read your 12:32pm post that does list your opinion on the matter.

I was too lazy to scroll ahead and read...

yourworstnightmare 11 years, 7 months ago

Perceived arrogant attitude or not, refusal to adapt has led to depletion. I might note that it is childish to refuse to acknowledge a fact because the presenter might be perceived as arrogant.

This is capitalism, folks, our system of economics. The market cries for no one.

yourworstnightmare 11 years, 7 months ago

I think Idiot hit the nail on the head when he said "who cares?". The decline in population in western Kansas is simply the natural result of a changing world and those unwilling to adapt to it.

It's called evolution, and extinction is a major driver of evolutionary change.

johngalt 11 years, 7 months ago

Enrollment at many larger districts is declining too.

Overall in the State, we have fewer students than 30 years ago, but administrators have increase 90% and teach personnel have increased 70%/

davisnin 11 years, 7 months ago

Perhaps its the incredibly arrogant attitude that someone knows better how to run a 'modern society' that slows down the acceptance of that message by the ignorant masses in western Kansas. The fact is the way they do things out there has fed us all for years and it is quite a risk to change the model when you aren't sure of what way is better. New ideas are not better ideas, they are just more recent.

Godot 11 years, 7 months ago

If Big Agriculture is responsible for depopulating most of Western Kansas, then Big Agriculature should have to pay extra for the infrastructure needed for the few people left. Have a special property tax rate for Big Agriculture - somewhere between the current agriculture rate and the commercial rate.

Jayhawk226 11 years, 7 months ago


If frwent is incorrect...then I would also like some ideas from you that would more precisely isolate the causes and potential solutions to the demographic affairs of the state.

If you intend to discredit his assertion, you will also need to front some evidence...and "simply, well, stupid--sorry" just doesn't work either.

Jayhawk226 11 years, 7 months ago

According to those sidebar stats provided by the Kansas Association of School Boards...

...sounds as though Kansas is turning into one big 'ol ghost-town.

Ironically enough, after living in Kansas since '98...this Saturday I'm moving. I suppose I have just become another statistic for the State of Kansas.

MWIV 11 years, 7 months ago

Good grief, holygrailale! Get a life. How in the world can you draw thaa comparison? You've been into the "ale" too long. Did you ever consider that families might be "home schooling" so the parents can teach their kids what they (the parents) want their children to learn, ie: respect, values, etc.?

yourworstnightmare 11 years, 7 months ago

I echo JA's very good post. Population loss stems from loss of business and opportunity. The stagnant mindset (e.g. it doesn't matter what other people think of us) and the continual slashing of taxes that precludes investment in infrastructure have put Kansas in a hole.

The economy is changing, and much of Kansas has failed to adapt and thus is disappearing. This is the natural order of things.

bmwjhawk 11 years, 7 months ago

Consolidate! Tiny schools, while good for values, memories, and other touchy-feely stuff, are not an effective use of taxpayer money. It's unfortunate to require students to take long bus rides, but it's a necessity.

But, as with so many necessary evils, the political unpopularity of it will never allow widespread consolidation to take place.

How about 1 four-year term for all elected officials? Then, they could do things that are RIGHT, not things that are popular.

ledzep13 11 years, 7 months ago

Posted by rightthinker (anonymous) on July 30, 2006 at 12:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)


People like you and others who blame Christians is a total yawn....come up with some other ideas that make's a shop-worn, incorrect assumption.

Maybe just plain ol' stupid people are hanging around....ever thought about that? Christians are everywhere in America and to use this excuse is simply, well, stupid---sorry.

People are, a person is. Its plural. But I do agree with you, stupid people is the problem...god bless.

oldgoof 11 years, 7 months ago

"most of the folks out there are very conservative, highly religious, and sadly, opposed to new ideas, education, change and improvements. "

Bulls*. It is interesting when people in Lawrence make stereotypes about western Kansas. Yes, they have Connie Morris, but Lawrence was responsible for originally elected John Bacon which tilted the balance of the BOE when they had a moderate. Western Kansas is the part of the state where religo-wackos have not taken over the R party....unlike what has happened before here. Be careful with your stereotypes.

garrenfamily 11 years, 7 months ago

Obviously none of you are from SW KS or any of the counties mentioned in the article. The town I am from consisted of farmers, bankers, hog farm workers, and teachers. That probably was 90% of the population. When farmers are not able to make ends meet, they find work elsewhere - and there isn't anywhere in SW KS to go. Therefore, the population declines. I saw the hispanic population increase by about 35% from K to 12th grade. When they are illeagle, the population also decreases with each deportation. One of the worst things about consolidating is that the children spend sometimes 2+ hours on the school bus everyday.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 7 months ago

For Rightthinker...I do not think that I even mentioned Christians. I said the "religious right" Many folks in this group have no idea what true Christianity is all about. I think that Jesus Christ would have a hard time recognizing some of the misguided folks that claim to be his followers. A good parallel would be what we see today in Lebanon, another group of religious advocates proclaiming allegence to a supreme deity, and then using their sacred texts to justify murder, killing and hatred. For something a little closer to home, just look at Fred Phelps. Claiming religious piety does NOT make you a follower of the peace and grace of God, your daily behavior does. Much of the attitude that "I am religious therefore my bigotry and hatred is justified" does not wash and is the true demon in this discussion. I do not put down Christianity or religion, just those who use it to foment hatered, violence, and stupidity whether it be in Lebanon or Kansas.

Jamesaust 11 years, 7 months ago

Why is it that jobs like AOL customer service can be outsourced to India but not to, say, Jennings?

In part, because rural Kansas doesn't have the modern infrastructure necessary to attract business. There's no broadband in Tribune. There's plenty of opportunity in the world but it goes to where it can be connected. Ironically, that same modern connectivity could also greatly enhance the education of rural students.

If Kansans were really serious about this loss of population (which is really just a result of the loss of business), they'd beg, borrow and steal for every dime they could to invest in integrating all of Kansas into the world and 'seeding' entrepreneurial on-line startups.

But, none of that's going to happen. It costs money, which would preclude cutting taxes every election year.

MWIV 11 years, 7 months ago

Jamesaust - What do you mean western Kansas is NOT connected. Well thanks to Al Gore and company it was supposed to be! Take a look at your next phone bill and see how much you pay in taxes to support rural "commections". Don't get the idea that I don't like Al Gore. I think of him daily and give him thanks for his internet invention thing. Take a real close look at your cell phone bill. Where is all of that tax money going? Calculate the percentage of taxes against your total bill. It can be a wake up call. I have lived in this state all my life, traveled to the other 49 and been in about 7 foreign countries. Frankly, I find Kansas to be one of best kept secrects in the country, if you can tolerate four seasons. If you all want to move from here, I am okay with that. More room for the rest of us that stay. I guess I am sort of like Dorothy...there is no place like home. Maybe I am also too old.

WilburM 11 years, 7 months ago

For all the governmental strcuture problems of W. KS (105 counties? 300 school districts), the population decline issue still overwhelms everything else. You think the KS (and NE and SD and ND) Depts of Commerce don't have hosts of programs for eco-devo int he western and rural parts of their states? They've got a lot. But do people want to live in Sharon Springs or Atwood or the whole range of counties along the NE border. Kids go to KSU or KU or wherever to school and don't come back -- And that's been the pattern for a hundred years (look at the population trends).

No matter what we invest, there's little chance for overall success. Som pockets, maybe.

Sort of like counting on KS tourism (50th in the nation for a reason) to become an economic engine...

Ironically, rural parts of the state generally do better in terms of governmental spending and programs than most urban and suburban parts because there is real nostalgia for rural values and an agrarian way of life.

ASBESTOS 11 years, 7 months ago

Less people living in these areas is from the all out promotion of agriculture at the expense of everything else. Agriculture is important, but it is only a component of the economy. Small business that used to be in small towns have not had the support. IF you also put in the effects of the Kansas Livestock Assn, and Kansas Farm B. lobbying, well there you go.

THe satat focused on being a monoeconomy in these areas, and shunned all business oppertunity and business development for the sole support of the agriculture economy.

NOw I am NOT talking the family farm here, those are great. It is the larger crporate farms that wheylay the little guy. THey use illegals as labor depressing the wage. The water issues are only going to get worse. With all the alcohol plants going in, yes they do get some jobs out of that, but they are now competing for the water. Alcohol production takes ALOT of water.

The country in Kansas is a GREAT place to live, but there is no opportunity for success out there.

TheOriginalCA 11 years, 7 months ago

Asbestos, you totally stole my thunder, but now I don't have to write anything because you hit the nail on the head. This is a conservative state, so why would the KBOE have anything to do with this?

To the pundits of the KBOE who are opportunistically (and absent mindedly) taking juvenile cheapshots here, please remember back to the original controversy. All the KBOE did was to de-emphasize evolution and removed it from the requirements of science education in Kansas. It doesn't mean that it CAN'T be taught. If the teacher wants to teach a unit on meteorology, then let the teacher do it. If I knew more about one subject than I knew about evolution and I had to choose, then I would choose the subject that I knew more about and was more compassionate with because I know that the students would pick up on that enthusiasm.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 7 months ago

Let me clarify something. I am very well aware that the problems are economic based. And many of the causes are beyond the control of the people affected. But the very real stubborness to accept new ideas, new proceedures, and new business methods are a very real problem. The attitude of some people that "we don't want none of them gawd-dammed college liberal communist kids out here telling us what to do" is still prevalant in rural areas. A lot of this attitude is generated by fear of new ideas and the uneasy feeling that this "new generation thinking" comed from godless and non-believing persons who the "good" people should not have anything to do with. I have seen it and heard it. No, this is not a discussion of religious subjects, but a lot of folks let religion and worse, bad religion affect their clear thinking about what they need to do to adapt to the modern society (use that term with some older folks and see what you get called). I would not even call such folks "wackos". They are simply ignorant which is different from stupid. And suspicious of anyone who is educated. But the problem is real, the rural communities of most parts of the U.S. suffer this problem. So long as the majority of these communities refuse to wake up and learn what positive measures and people to follow instead of "gawd-damming" it, they will continue their decline.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 7 months ago

I have lived in Kansas since 1965 and worked in a profession that has involved travel all over the state. The western part of Kansas is and has been for a long time, a desolate and lowly populated area for many years. I am no sociologist or guru of why this is, Kansas is not the only area so afflicted, check out Nevada. But as others have mentioned, most of the folks out there are very conservative, highly religious, and sadly, opposed to new ideas, education, change and improvements. They regard most of the modern world as domain of the devil and want to continue rushing headlong into the 19th century. The current makeup of the state board of education and the current attorney general are an accurate reflection of this mentality. This is not a criticizm of this state of affairs, simply an acknowledgement. In today's world, very few want to tolerate this life style, to live in a 19th century wasteland, but unfortunately when you have a population that ebraces these philosophies, the conditions described in this article will continue to exist. It is a sad and unfortunate commentary on these affairs, but it is also a reflection of human nature, the fear of change, the fear of being absorbed, the fear that God will send down thunderbolts to strike the unfaithful. It should be no surprise that young people do not wish to live in these areas and that no businesses wish to locate there because most persons living in the 21st century want their lives to be more fulfilling.

ASBESTOS 11 years, 7 months ago

There you go again HGA, EVERY DAMN THREAD you POST ON. IT is hijacked and it is a Bush/Republican bashing affair, WITH NOTHING TH F%^$ to do with the thread.

WHAT in the WORLD does KERRY and 9/!! have to do with western Kansas Schools shrinking.

I tell you there are alot of people that fancy themselves quite the intellectual, but they can't be focused on a discussion worth a damn.

It is all political party line BS.


ASBESTOS 11 years, 7 months ago

You know EXACTLY what I was talking about, don't play the poor persecuted for me.

Yes, I have read Frank's book. I think a third is correct, and the other two thirds is just blithering hate for all things Repubilican. HE does make some good points, but jumps of the reality wagon quite a bit for the remainder of the book. He holds Dem's up as totally infallible,which neither party is. Actually BOTH parties are only fallible at this point in time.

ON either side their mantra is '"AT least I M not the other guy".

I think we need stem cell research, no I think the Government does not have to pay for it. THe PHarmcos are going to make a lot of money off of it anyway. There is NO BAS of stem cell research nor ESC either. They can do it privately.

I am glad to see the Connie Morris's of the world get their due. A cabal established in a domocracy is the death of it.

We have to fight and kill those who are bent on our distruction, with out any reservation, period. We need to go after terrorists that both parites and administrations screwed up and ignored.

I believe we need to close the border and secure it, excort those out that came in here illegally, THEN clean up our poor immigration policy, that both parites and administrations screwed up and ignored.

That is myh political outlook, nothing fancy, nothing dogmatic, nothing racists.

ALL of it very Pro Amrerican, and Pro freedom for our citizens.

I have "shown you mine", now show me yours. That is what an independent conservative mind thinks like.

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