Twenty-seven patrons speak at special meeting
At 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, the Prairie Hills USD No. 113 Board of Education (BOE) held a special meeting in the Wetmore Academic Center (WAC) gymnasium regarding the potential closure of WAC. Board members present were Anissa Bloom, Kathy Lippert, Leslie Scoby, Stan Keim, Jim Scoby, Phillip Buessing and Kent Saylor. Also present were Superintendent Todd Evans and Lori Kopp, an attorney from the Kansas Association of School Boards.
Superintendent Evans started off the meeting by sharing some financial information and reading a document titled “Rationale for the Potential Closure of Wetmore.” According to the document, Evans’ role during the meeting was to provide factual information supporting the closure of the Wetmore Academic Center.
During the meeting, numerous members of the public spoke their thoughts and feelings to the BOE about the board’s decision to consider closing the Wetmore school. Those who spoke to the board were Ryan Shuler, Jessica Atwood, Linda Boyd, Matt Walters, Rodney Burdiek, Sarah Cormier, Michelle Flewelling, Andy Henry, Kyla Milligan, Ethan Schmitz, Brianna Schmitz, Matt Kramer, Matt Bloom, James Dobbins, Malori Henry, Matthew Rice, Corey Bloom, Tabitha Shuler, Taygan Fischer, Susan Bloom, Ginny Pfrang, Andrea Meggison, Riggsby Scott, DeAnndra Lighthiser, Andrea Lagos and Analyssa Noe.
R. Shuler first spoke to the board and asked whether the Wetmore students’ voices matter and what will it take for the BOE members to realize that the decision to close Wetmore is a mistake. He also told the board to think about how they’re affecting the WAC students.
Atwood, a staff member at Wetmore, spoke about the statement in the rationale document regarding the inability to retain quality staff at Wetmore. Atwood said she doesn’t understand the staff quality statement because she is a quality educator and the Wetmore staff members are good quality. She asked the board to give Wetmore more time before considering school closure.
Boyd, former Wetmore English teacher, asked the board three questions: 1) Why the board has refused to bring in a neutral third-party auditor to review the financial figures put forth by the BOE. 2) How are Sabetha students “suffering” due to Wetmore? 3) Has the board done their due diligence by conducting a cost-effective analysis of how the closure of Wetmore schools will affect the economies of both ends of the district?
Walters told the board to “do the right thing” and asked the BOE members, as well as Superintendent Evans, if they believe they’re doing the right thing. While Walters spoke, his wife, Janelle, gave the board members hand mirrors. Walters asked that the board members look into the mirrors while he read a poem called The Man in the Glass by Peter Wimbrow.
Burdiek brought up multiple past comments made by the board members and asked why they’re having a public hearing if the BOE doesn’t actually want to close Wetmore, which was a comment made during a previous meeting. He also said the Wetmore students will not be going to the Sabetha schools.
Cormier read a letter to the BOE written by Wetmore student Clayton Murrow, since he wasn’t able to attend the meeting. Murrow stated in his letter that he does not want to attend any other school besides Wetmore and that if the board closes Wetmore’s doors, then they “would have betrayed him.” After reading Murrow’s letter, Cormier then asked Lippert if she would please not type on her laptop while people are speaking.
Flewelling said her children will not attend the Sabetha schools if Wetmore is closed and asked that the land valuations and state aid follow her children to the school they would go to.
A. Henry asked the board that, if they do close WAC, could they “do it with a little heart,” and he asked if the board would at least give Wetmore until the end of 2024 to prepare for school closure.
Milligan, a student, told the board her story about moving away from Wetmore to another school and missing Wetmore after having a bad experience at the other school, so her family moved back. She told the BOE that she won’t attend Sabetha and many of her classmates aren’t planning to either.
E. Schmitz said, among other statements, that Wetmore should have gotten notice of potential school closure more ahead of time. He also said quality of education should be something the board should consider when making their decision to potentially close WAC. He also asked why the board is considering closing Wetmore when it is the highest ranked school in the county, while Sabetha is the worst ranked.
B. Schmitz told the board about how she felt when she was told when she was younger that Wetmore might close and how she is still worried about how closing WAC will affect the current students.
Kramer said, if the Wetmore school closes, he wants the land valuations and state aid to go where his family goes.
M. Bloom agreed with Kramer and said his kids will not attend any schools in the district if WAC closes. He also talked about how helpful the Wetmore community is.
Dobbins said the Wetmore school is “pretty much paying its own way,” and said it is his observation that some of the Sabetha board members have become selfish stewards of the district’s resources.
M. Henry spoke for Lynsie and Jeff Tanking, who could not attend the meeting. She also said her kids will not attend Sabetha and she wants the land valuations tax dollars and state aid to follow her family.
Rice said the board has spoken a lot about finances and teachers, but what about the kids? He said it should be all about the kids.
C. Bloom brought up some past discussion made by the board members and also brought up the 2019 viability policy. He wants the board members to do what is right. C. Bloom also said the Wetmore community will suffer and the Sabetha community will suffer as well due to a loss of business done in Sabetha by Wetmore community members.
T. Shuler said her children will not attend the Sabetha schools and wants the land valuation and state aid to follow her children.
Fischer, a Wetmore student, came before the board and told them that she “is not a number.” She told them to look at the facts and to rethink their decision to consider closing Wetmore. She appreciates the WAC staff members and doesn’t think the Wetmore students will get all the help they need if they go to a larger school.
S. Bloom addressed some points from her point of view. She also asked the board members what values they want Wetmore and Sabetha kids to remember the board having if they close WAC.
Pfrang quoted a the story of King David from the bible and translated it into current terms about Wetmore and Sabetha. She also quoted some other bible passages and asked the BOE members what Jesus would do in their current situation.
Meggison said her children will not attend the Sabetha schools and wants the land valuations and state aid to follow her children to the school they attend.
Scott, a Wetmore student, told the board that he is 16 years old and that he should be doing kid things, such as shopping on the weekend, instead of having to advocate for his school and fight for it to stay open. He also said he does not want Wetmore to become a memory.
Lighthiser, a Wetmore student, spoke about her experience being in the Wetmore school and the relationships she has made while being a Wetmore student. She also said that attending a smaller school is better than going to a bigger school.
Lagos spoke about her experience homeschooling her children and how Wetmore is the only place she feels comfort sending her children to public school. She also said quality of education has been ignored in the BOE discussions and that there are other cost-saving measures the board can take instead of closing WAC. Lagos made several other points about Wetmore.
Noe told the board about her conversation with an individual who said the board’s discussions are not about numbers anymore. She said she is full of knowledge of numbers and ideas to resolve the school district’s issues, but “the numbers don’t matter.” Noe believes WAC is worth saving, but also thinks something new can be built in its place if it is closed. She said Wetmore is ready to take care of their own and asked the board for a year to prepare for and manage the transition of school closure.
Attorney Kopp asked for the BOE to come to a conclusion at the next BOE meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13.
To watch the entire meeting on YouTube, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4UMztxoDH0.
Note: not all statements from the public could be included in this story.
Letter From Jackson Heights
According to a letter written by the North Jackson USD No. 335 Board of Education President David Allen, which was distributed to the USD 113 BOE members but wasn’t mentioned during the Feb. 4 special meeting, Jackson Heights wants to see the Wetmore school stay open and provide an education to their students. However, their board reached a consensus that they are “unable to engage in the discussion of being the sponsoring district to keep the Wetmore school open at this time.”
The letter also said that if WAC is closed, USD 335 will be able and willing to accept any students from the Wetmore school who would like to come into their district. Allen said USD 335 has ample classroom capacity to continue providing Wetmore students with a learning environment that is small and personal.
Also, the letter states that if school closure at Wetmore is the ultimate decision made by the USD 113 BOE, then the USD 335 BOE would like to schedule a meeting “to discuss the potential of transferring to USD 335 the property belonging to Wetmore school patrons whose students might choose to attend Jackson Heights.”