Prairie Hills USD No. 113 Board of Education: Board approves resolution to conduct public hearing
On Monday, Dec. 12, the Prairie Hills USD No. 113 Board of Education (BOE) held their monthly meeting in the Sabetha High School varsity gym. There, multiple people spoke to the BOE about the board’s decision to continue discussing campus closure at Wetmore.
Jessica Winkler was the first to speak. She wanted to express her support for the Wetmore school and staff, and she believes that closing Wetmore is not right.
Steve Sheldon, who resides in Holton, wanted the board to “stop the brakes and reverse their decision” to discuss campus closure. He asked the board why they wouldn’t “give the fine people of Wetmore a chance to shine.” Sheldon explained to the board that he is moved by facts and evidence, and that he was once biased against Wetmore before realizing he was incorrect in his assumptions after doing some research and looking at the data.
Sheldon told the board members that they must base their decisions on facts rather than what could possibly happen in the future. Sheldon also told the board members that they “owe it to the taxpayers to do their job.”
Doug Wertenberger told the board that he supports the Wetmore community. He also told the board members that a lot of thought needs to take place in order to make a big decision like closing the Wetmore school. Wertenberger wanted the board to thoroughly review the data surrounding the Wetmore school before making such an important decision.
Ryan Shuler, a Wetmore student, spoke on behalf of the Wetmore Academic Center sophomores. He shared with the board his personal experiences with the Wetmore staff members, and how he appreciates the staff members for being supportive and there for him when he was going through dark times.
Analyssa Noe let the board members know that she and the six people that would give speeches after her were representing Wetmore. Noe started off her presentation by going over the district’s KPI (Key Performance Indicator) review and how each school campus has been performing in three metrics over four years – operating margin per campus, operating margin as a district and cost per FTE.
Noe said that Wetmore has been trending “in the green” over the past four years while some of the other campuses have been trending more in the red. She also went over some myths that have been said, such as how closing down Wetmore will be profitable to Sabetha. Based on all the information that Noe has found and presented, she does not believe there is a need to close the Wetmore school down.
Matt Kramer spoke to the board members about the viability document and went over scenarios of how much financial surplus the district would get if Wetmore closed, if Axtell closed and if both schools closed. He also explained a legal loophole that could happen if Wetmore is closed, such as how Sabetha would receive funding for Wetmore students even if they are not being taught in Sabetha. Kramer also said that taxpayers could end up paying twice for students to attend schools that aren’t Sabetha.
Kramer believes Wetmore is a self-sustaining part of the school district.
Andrea Lagos started off by saying USD 113 needs to manage the budget we have, not the budget we think we deserve. Lagos went over some information with the board based on FY 23 and 24 budget projections, and explained how much surplus Wetmore has made over five years. Lagos became very upset when she questioned why the board would consider closing Wetmore over a $5,600 deficit that Wetmore is projected to have during the 2023 fiscal year.
Lagos said that Wetmore has been making adjustments to lower their projected deficit, and she insisted that Wetmore is still operating within viability standards. She told the board that the schools need to focus on finding healthy ways to remedy any financial problems going on in the district rather than shutting down Wetmore.
Linda Boyd, a former Wetmore teacher, pointed out to the board members that they seem to be fixated on a financial situation that she believes isn’t a problem. Boyd reviewed academic performance stats at Wetmore versus Sabetha and said that Wetmore is performing higher than the Sabetha schools and other schools in the area. Boyd asked why the board would consider sending Wetmore students to other schools that are performing lower than Wetmore. Boyd said the board should focus more on making an academic recovery plan than to shut down Wetmore.
Corey Bloom told the board how people in the surrounding communities don’t understand why the board is wanting to close Wetmore. C. Bloom also said the board has made itself into “a laughing stock.” He said Wetmore is not “the one that looks bad. The ones that look bad to the public are the board members that are trying to push the closure of the Wetmore school.” C. Bloom said those board members should be ashamed of themselves “because the numbers don’t lie.”
Rodney Burdiek spoke to the board upset about the board’s consideration to close Wetmore. He told the board that they should consider refraining from prayer before the meetings for a while because it is “a charade that [__] would go straight to greed and money. He believes it is “a great disservice to our Lord.”
Burdiek also shared some concerns he had.
Andy Henry wanted the board members to get their facts straight before making such an important decision as to close Wetmore. Henry shared questions directed at the board that have been asked by the Wetmore community. He also told the board members that they were elected to do what’s best for the district’s students. Henry wanted the board to be transparent.
Board member Anissa Bloom spoke a bit before the board could continue to an item on the agenda about a public hearing. She requested that all of the district’s information be reviewed by a third party and get advice from them about the situation the board is facing. A. Bloom also asked Superintendent Todd Evans some questions to confirm some information he had presented during earlier board meetings. She believes the board should do its due diligence to review all information before making a large decision that would impact the district.
A. Bloom made a motion that the board members cease all conversation about school closure. Member Kent Saylor agreed with A. Bloom that the board needs to do its due diligence and gather more information before making a decision to close a school. Lippert said she believes the board has been very transparent and is not hiding anything as some members of the public suggested they were.
A. Bloom’s motion to cease all conversation about school closure failed 4-3, with Lippert, Leslie Scoby, Jim Scoby and Stan Keim being against the motion, and with A. Bloom, Saylor and Phillip Buessing being in favor of the motion.
Lippert shared her concern with an article written about the board recently that was published in a nearby newspaper. She believed it contained some misinformation about the board, such as how the board is supposedly scheming to obtain state aid for Sabetha.
After some further discussion from Lippert, she made a motion to approve the resolution to conduct a public hearing to consider a proposal to close the school building of grades PreK-12 at the Wetmore Academic Center.
A. Bloom asked some questions based on what Lippert had said. A. Bloom also asked if the BOE really thinks one special meeting will be long enough to discuss and review all the information that has been presented over multiple board meetings in order to make a proper decision about the closure of Wetmore. She insisted that a third party should be involved to review the district’s information first before continuing further with any big decisions.
J. Scoby said he initially did not like seeing the public hearing resolution on the agenda, but he now thinks they should have the hearing. He said he would vote “yes” for the resolution, though reluctantly.
The board voted on the resolution to conduct a public hearing to consider a proposal to close Wetmore. The motion was approved 4-3, with Lippert, L. Scoby, J. Scoby and Keim being in favor of the resolution, and with A. Bloom, Saylor and Buessing being against the resolution.
The public hearing will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, in the Wetmore Academic Center Varsity Gym.
To watch the entire meeting on YouTube, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0Kxj1BOiMU.