Board faces impasse with possible disorganization petition looming
In February, the Prairie Hills USD No. 113 Board of Education (BOE) voted 5-2 to close Wetmore Academic Center at the conclusion of the 2022-23 school year. Since then, the board has received an influx of negative public attention. The majority of this negative attention has been from the Wetmore Community Action group, who have been waiting for the board to decide on land transfer issues, and have circulated a petition to disorganize USD No. 113.
In March, the BOE entertained a land transfer discussion with North Jackson USD No. 335, however, the two parties were unable to agree on where the district lines should be drawn and that meeting ended without a decision being made.
Since then, USD No. 335 Superintendent Jim Howard reached out to USD. No 113 Superintendent Todd Evans on Tuesday, April 11, to set up another meeting for the boards to discuss transferring the Wetmore land to USD 335. However, Evans replied to this request stating, “USD 113 is interested in waiting. One reason for this is that additional time will allow us to learn more about what the legislature will do with the school finances and policies this session.”
Evans continued in his email saying if USD 335 is “interested in making a counter offer [on land being transferred] or in having us consider additional information, I will take it to our next meeting for discussion.”
At that time, Evans also suggested to Howard that he believes future land transfer discussions would be more effective if they were held at committee level instead of with the full boards. He also stated in his email response, “This would open up the opportunity for more engagement from individual board members and provide more of a sense of mutual interest in good faith bargaining.”
On April 25, USD 335 President David Allen sent an email declining the USD 113 board’s offer of meeting at the committee level because their board is “firmly committed to negotiating only board to board, in open session, to provide complete transparency to all parties involved in the process.”
Therefore, USD 113 President Leslie Scoby responded to his email on Monday, May 1, saying, “The USD #113 Board of Education is interested in learning more about your counter-offer to your previous proposal. While we regret that you declined our invitation to meet at the committee level, we appreciate your interest in providing transparency.”
L. Scoby’s letter continued by asking for a document that “articulates the specific items and parameters that USD #335 wishes to discuss, including supporting information.” She stated this request will allot time for USD 113 board members to research the items in question instead of having a full meeting to discuss.
Currently, the USD 113 Board is at an impasse with the disorganization petition. The disorganization petition could appear on either the primary election ballot on Tuesday, Aug. 1, or the general election ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Land transfer requests are due to the State Board of Education on Feb. 15, 2024. Therefore, the board thought their time would be better spent “combating the disorganization petition,” as stated during the Monday, May 8, BOE meeting.
In an effort to be transparent, Evans shared multiple letters the board has sent and received since February during the Monday, May 8, BOE meeting.
“…in the interest of transparency, I’ve shared some of the letters we’ve sent and the letters we’ve received from different boards of education. Are there any questions about those letters? I know I haven’t worked with the board, I’ve worked with Mrs. [Leslie] Scoby, I’ve worked with Mr. [Martin] Mishler, our attorney, on all that information. Are there any questions or comments about the information?” Evans said.
“I thought both letters going back to the districts were very well written, succinct in the information that we would like to work with them,” said BOE member Jim Scoby.
After looking at the dates for when land transfer requests are due, Scoby said there is “no reason to spend the time and the effort” to discuss transferring the Wetmore land.
“…there’s really no reason for us to spend the time and the effort, the legal assistance, the discussion, all that,” L. Scoby said. “If our district… It looks like, sometimes people might see there’s step one, which is land transfer, and if we don’t come to an agreement, then we go into possible mediation if the other district wants to do that. Then it looks like, from the information that’s out there, that the next step is the dissolving of a district. That is not the next step. That is one of the things that has been put as their third step.”
“So I think what we are trying to articulate to the other districts is, while we are still under this possible threat of our district being dissolved, there’s no reason to spend time and effort… Our time and effort will be spent combating a petition, that might appear on the ballot in either August or in November, that could potentially dissolve a district, which is not the way that statute was ever written to be used, to dissolve a district of our size. It was written and used in the past for very, very small districts that needed to be dissolved so that those students could attend willfully another school district, and this petition is being used in a much different way, So, in our opinion, it’s not really worth our time and effort to move forward with [land transfer discussion,], and that is what we articulated in the letter.”
“If the district is dissolved, there is no land to transfer,” Lippert said.
Then, the board discussed holding off on discussing land transfers until June.
Evans confirmed, saying, “There’s really nothing for us to do.”
BOE member Kent Saylor said the district is open to receiving letters about land transfers, because they are “not trying to hide one darn thing.”
“Speaking of being open, I think we’re the only district in at least a central radius that puts our meetings out on the web for everyone to see,” Lippert said. “I’m not aware that the other districts that touch us are that transparent.”
The board decided to table the land transfer discussions until the June 12 meeting. The board encourages public comment at this meeting. However, until then, the board welcomes the public to reach out with information, questions and concerns.
“I’m getting a lot of emails and I appreciate that, I appreciate hearing from people all over,” L. Scoby said. “I save them, and I file them and I go back to them. I try to respond at least that I read them and appreciate them.”
L. Scoby said she had checked with Nemaha County Clerk Mary Kay Schultejans on the status of the petition.
“[The petition] has not, as far as I know, been filed with the county. I did talk to Mary Kay [Schultejans] just to kind of see. Of course they can’t file something the last second and expect it to be on the ballot. There would have to be signatures that are verified and so forth, and that all takes time. But there’s two elections, there’s the August primary and then there’s the November election.”
As of 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 9, H Sub for SB 113 has been submitted to Governor Laura Kelly for her signature. This bill is a K-12 Appropriation Bill, which states:
• A school district that plans to dispose of a school building would be required to notify the legislature and grant legislature right of first refusal.
• Several amendments to BSAPP, enrollment and calculations of aid and weightings (use current year enrollment and/or look-back enrollment).
While the only public session of land transfer discussion has been with USD No. 335, the USD No. 113 board also has communicated with Nemaha Central Schools USD No. 115.
The USD No. 113 BOE has started a Frequently Asked Questions page on their website at https://www.usd113.org/vnews/display.v/SEC/District%7CFAQ%20-%20Frequently%20Asked%20Questions%20for%20USD%20113.
To listen to the entire BOE meeting, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t777CxlM3_k&t=4562s.