Topeka — A state commission looking for ways to save money has rejected the idea of closing either the school for the blind or the school for the deaf, but wants to put the separate schools on the same campus.
“We are not advising closing either the school for the blind or the school for the deaf,” Rochelle Chronister, chairwoman of the Facilities Closure and Realignment Commission, said Monday.
But commission members were almost unanimous in wanting to explore the possibility of moving the Kansas State School for the Blind, which is currently in Kansas City, Kan., to the campus of the Kansas State School for the Deaf, which is in Olathe.
Commission members said “co-locating” the two schools could reduce operating costs, although they maintained that the two school populations would remain separated to provide the special instruction tailored to each group.
The commission will make its final recommendations to Gov. Mark Parkinson in December. The panel was formed to try to find ways to increase efficiencies as the state faces a budget shortfall.
The school for the blind serves approximately 75 students on its campus, while the school for the deaf serves about 135 on its campus, according to state officials. Both schools have students who stay in dorms. In addition, both schools provide services to students in other parts of the state.
The commission said that because both schools were operating below capacity, putting the facilities on one campus would save money in areas such as food service and maintenance. Members of the commission also said they wanted to move a Topeka rehabilitation center for the blind to the school for the deaf campus.
But they also said that while long-term savings could be possible, there would be short-term expenses related to changing certain buildings to accommodate blind students.
Madeleine Burkindine, superintendent of the school for the blind, said some buildings on the school for the deaf campus could not be used by blind students because they are too close to busy streets.
And Education Commissioner Alexa Posny said building a new school for the blind could cost an estimated $25 million to $30 million.
Before the commission makes its final recommendation, Chronister said more information was needed from states that have put both their schools for the deaf and blind on the same campus. Of 45 states that have schools for the deaf and blind, nine campuses are co-located, Burkindine said.