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School efficiency task force chairman says panel has broached sensitive topic of district consolidation

A task force appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback to make school spending more efficient has broached the politically explosive topic of consolidating school districts, the panel's chairman said Tuesday.

"There really is no way to have a conversation about this without that coming up, however, so we are talking about it," Ken Willard told the Legislative Educational Planning Committee. Willard, of Hutchinson, said he understood that emotions run high around the subject of consolidation, and added that the task force was "not going to go there" when it delivers a report to legislators by the time the 2013 legislative session starts in January.

There are 286 school districts in Kansas and Willard said the question is whether that is an efficient "model for delivering education."

But Willard noted that Brownback has made it clear that he doesn't favor the state forcing consolidation.

State Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said the only way to save money when consolidating school districts is to shut down schools, and that, she added, has a devastating impact on communities. "When you close buildings, you close the town," she said.

Willard said the task force was looking at several other items, such as the salaries of school superintendents. "Many are paid more than the governor is," he said.

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