Equalization vs. equity… The decision lies with the Kansas State Board of Education

More than 200 people gather for the public hearing regarding the land transfer petition, which was held by the Kansas State Department of Education at 3 p.m. Friday, March 22.

Equalization is the act of making something equal or uniform. Equity is the quality of being fair or impartial. These two words were the defining arguments for Prairie Hills USD No. 113 and Nemaha Central USD No. 115, respectively, during the Kansas State Department of Education’s (KSDE) public hearing regarding the land transfer petition on Friday, March 22, in Bern.

More than 200 people — including patrons from both USD 113 and USD 115, attorneys, and administration — were present for the approximately four-hour public hearing, which began at 3 p.m.

Those present were able to hear arguments from both districts involved in the land transfer dispute, as well as from multiple patrons who wanted to speak directly to the KSDE hearing officer, Scott Gordon.

Since USD 115 was the district that filed the petition with KSDE, they gave the first presentation of the meeting to Gordon first why they were petitioning for approximately 77 square miles of land from the USD 113 school district. Speaking on behalf of USD 115 were their attorney Joshua Ney, Bern resident Ross Mosteller, USD 115 Board of Education (BOE) President Amy Sudbeck and Analyssa Noe of Wetmore. Ney stated that Noe has been “very instrumental in assisting us in collecting and analyzing data.”

USD 115 presentation

Ney — who is an elected county attorney in Jefferson County and is a legal partner at a firm in Topeka — started the presentation by giving history on how this land transfer petition — which was filed with the KSDE on Feb. 15, 2024 — has transpired over the past year.

“We exchanged proposals during the summer of last year and those were proposals, from our perspective, were really driven off of the location of students in a certain area in Bern and west of Bern,” Ney said. “The majority of students and families that live in that area actually attend our district, USD 115.”

Ney reminded those present that when negotiations were unsuccessful, they approached the Kansas State Board of Education (KSBE) to appoint a mediator.

“In December of last year, we engaged in mediation,” Ney said. “At that time, two other districts were involved in mediation with USD 113 regarding land transfer — USD 335, as well as 380. Unfortunately, this part of it [USD 115] was not resolved at mediation, unlike 335 and 380. USD 113 agreed to transfer land from 113 into 335 and 380 without any swap of land during that mediation. Those agreements will be presented to the state board in a month or two. Unfortunately though, to date, USD 115 has not received any proposal from USD 113 that would not include a one-for-one valuation swap. Land coming out of 113 into 115 that there would be an equal and opposite amount of valuation that is currently in 115 that would go into 113.”

Ney said that USD 115’s position has always been about the students and their location.

“This is not a significant amount of money when compared to the overall budgets of both districts,” Ney said. “Ultimately, our position has been that the equity about where land is allocated should really go to what is in the best interest of students. So, that is what K.S.A. 72-532 requires in the consideration of either an agreement that is approved by the board or a petition like in this case. That is whether the land transfers is in the best interest of students in the entire region [the petitioned area].”

Ney said that the Kansas legislature has “mandated” that KSBE “take a totality of the circumstances approach” when considering the 11 statutory factors listed in the statute including: the students affected, and whether the transfer would add to the general improvement of public schools in the state, and the equalization of benefits and burdens of education throughout the effected communities.

Ney also said there are other “non-express factors not stated in the statute” that may be considered.

“One of those factors is listed in the guidelines, but not in the statute, would be a material change in circumstances,” Ney said. “We believe that material change of circumstances exist in this matter. Ultimately, 68 students in the petitioned area enrolled in USD 115 for the 2023-24 school year, and represent 75 percent of the students who live in the petitioned area. Ninety-one of the 115 students that currently live in 113 territory makes up 12 percent of USD 115 total enrollment. So, ultimately our position is that losing the forest of chronic inequity, through the trees of technicality, whether it be a recent school closure, or some other significant event within a certain time frame looking back — six to 12 months — would do a great disservice to all students in the area and especially those in the petitioned area.

“Ultimately, this land transfer is not about a popularity contest. It is not a majority versus minority election. This is not about who wants the additional $200,000 to $300,000 per year. Everybody wants more money for their schools. As we have seen in the paper, it is clearly not about a sports rivalry. It’s not about historical attempts of USD 115 to formally engage 113 or to manage the increasing exodus of students from a petitioned area to Nemaha Central. Ultimately, nothing that has been proposed would cause an inequitable detriment to USD 113. We’ve calculated that $200,000 to $300,000 at issue tonight represents less than two percent of the overall budget of USD 113. So we are not talking about a financial detriment to either district. We’re talking about equity.”

Ney said the two questions before the KSBE are “whether the land transfer should occur to advance the best interest of the students in the region and equity.”

“Where the educational interest of all affected children inside and outside the transfer area, could be better served by adjusting district boundaries without any serious detrimental affects on students or from the district from which the land would be transferred,” Ney said.

Ney continued saying their side had taken a “targeted approach” when looking at the numbers.

“USD 115’s interest in this particular petitioned area is significant because over 10 percent of our students live in that area,” Ney said.

Ney also mentioned that USD 115 passed a bond to increase the capacity to receive more students from the area.

“That bond will be completed hopefully in time for 2024-25 school year this fall,” Ney said as he closed out his portion of the presentation. “There is no financial detriment or inequitable detriment to USD 113 when considering the equitable allocation of ad valorem transportation funding in the region as a whole… We would ask that this decision would be driven by education and equity.”

R. Mosteller — who has three kids attending Nemaha Central — presented on the history of why Bern is involved in the land transfer dispute.

“I am one of the 40ish percent of patrons who voted against the 488/441 consolidation,” R. Mosteller said. “My opinion [it] would have been better for the 488 district to dissolve naturally and split between Seneca and Sabetha. Falling very close at the proposed line that we are going to discuss today. That way we could have blamed it on the state instead of our neighbors.”

R. Mosteller said that Bern residents went to the polls with the “promise” that if Bern didn’t maintain viability over the next five years, they would be closed and that the “land could follow the students.”

R. Mosteller said that Sabetha/Wetmore former superintendent Dennis Stones said (based off on an article in The Sabetha Herald), “Parents will be given the opportunity to move their land into another district by following this [land transfer] process.”

“My neighbors and myself assumed that 113, the administration and the board, would hold true to the promise of letting land follow the students,” R. Mosteller said.

According to R. Mosteller, a transfer request of 159 landowners was gathered and was presented to the USD 113 BOE on May 7, 2012.

“Little did we know, the 113 attorney advised that there was not a legal obligation of the board to listen to our request and that we should be dismissed,” R. Mosteller said. “We were told that is was the receiving district that should make the request. So, now that we knew that, we approached USD 115 in May of 2012. We presented the same findings to that board of education and we were told that they wanted to wait until the September official headcount to know where the students went.”

R. Mosteller said, after that, USD 115 approved the land transfer request to USD 113 at their February 2013 meeting.

“Ultimately, this proposal was voted down by 113 by a vote of 3-2, at the June 10, 2012, meeting because ‘it was not the right time,’” R. Mosteller said. “We were told to come back when the students were sure to have settled into their new schools in a few years. I know that that was most likely a hedging mechanism now, to simply tell us now that ‘we are too late.’”

R. Mosteller said 113 should “give up” the land because it is the “right thing to do” for the families involved. He also said that Bern “lost their one representative on the BOE,” because “113 has drawn the district lines so that Sabetha can represent Bern in their voting structure.”

R. Mosteller also pointed out that “the USD 115 superintendent at the time said he would not encourage his board of education to fight for the Bern students.”

R. Mosteller said in 2013, he was told by the KSDE that as a landowner and an individual, he could not pursue a land transfer on his own.

Now in 2023, USD 113 has closed their third attendance center — Wetmore Academic Center — since they formed in 2010, R. Mosteller said.

“USD 113 offered to transfer land from the southern portion of the district to the receiving district of Jackson Heights because geography matters. Guess what, I agree,” R. Mosteller said. “Our landowner group revisited this issue with 115, who now has new administration and a board of education that sees Bern as fully committed to Nemaha Central. In many ways, 115 should have been the first in line for any transfer out of 113. To me, this issue is simply about representation. It’s about keeping promises and representation.”

A. Sudbeck — who is the president of the USD 115 school board — presented next and spoke about Sabetha not being interested in a land transfer following the Bern School closure.

“At that time, we chose not to invest in a lengthy legal battle and we took the high road,” A. Sudbeck said. “Since that time, two key things have happened. First, organic growth to the Bern area kids, no rural district could have anticipated. This growth was not in any forecast in 2013. Second, and most important, Sabetha signaled to neighboring districts due to the Wetmore School closure, they were willing to transfer land. Based on that change of heart, we felt like we should be included in the discussion.”

A. Sudbeck said that when USD 113 closed Bern in 2013, Nemaha Central accepted 55 students from the old Bern school district. Then said those numbers were at 66 students in 2015, 74 in 2017 and now at 87.

“These are the students that we have come here to discuss tonight. These families. These students. These landowners, and their continued dedication to Nemaha Central is at the forefront of this discussion and presentation,” A. Sudbeck said. “USD 115 interest in a land transfer are for the students and their families that live in the Bern area. After 12 years, it should be their right to participate in school board elections of the school they attend.”

A. Sudbeck said that while there are out-of-district students in every district across Kansas, there is a difference here.

“The difference here is that a school closure occurred that caused over 75 percent of students of an old district to attend our district,” A. Sudbeck said. “During the process, USD 115 has followed the law. We have attempted to negotiate board to board. During this time, USD 115 was the recipient of a map from Sabetha willing to transfer a large portion of land to Nemaha Central. This map of the land that Sabetha was willing to give up is an admission by their school board that this is the very smallest amount of territory that they are willing to transfer and they are willing to cut ties with it. The issue with the map that 113 proposed with the land transfer is that it asked for a land trade with no supporting data. No supporting land owner surveys. No petitioning families attached to the request. No taxpayer or resident in this area has come forward asking for a transfer. It did indeed look like a land grab on the part of 113.”

A. Sudbeck continued saying Nemaha Central requested to have meetings with 113 in an open public forum, so families and students of 115 of primary interest would know where they stand.

“113 would not agree to an open meeting, and due to their unwillingness to participate in an open meeting, the board to board negotiations broke down,” A. Sudbeck said. “The next step by the state board, was for 115 and 113 to move on to mediation. Prior to mediation, USD 115, along with Analyssa Noe, Katie Wissman and Josh Ney, put in a substantial amount of work collecting data for a landowner survey, time distance analysis and student geographic location, all required to be considered in the land transfer by the state board. Even with all of the student data and land owner preferences in front of them, once again, Sabetha would not come to the table to negotiate.”

A. Sudbeck said after the failed mediation, Nemaha Central and the Bern families had an “overwhelming amount of evidence that we must continue on with the petition.”

A. Sudbeck discussed the financial impact studies which were done to evaluate the impact on USD 113 if the land were to move.

“As Mr. Evans, the superintendent of 113, has said to his board many times, we did indeed find — and agree with him — that the revenue from the land tax was inconsequential to 113. Sabetha’s long-term viability and the estimated $200,000 to $300,000 reduction to their $15.3 million annual budget equals less than 1.9 percent of their total budget and will not be a detriment to their district. In fact, it barely moves the needle.”

A. Sudbeck also stated that the Bern community has “always culturally associated with Seneca as their county seat.”

“Seneca is where the vast majority of these families pay their taxes, worship, shop and eat out,” A. Sudbeck said. “Seneca is where their kids play little league, play at the public pool, participate in the county fair, and engage in all kinds of recreational and extracurricular activities, and Seneca is already where their kids attend school. We no longer just have a rallying cry from the communities of Nemaha Central and Bern. We have a strong evidence that was overwhelmingly in 115 and Bern’s favor. To look at the maps is to clearly see that the vast area of the old school Bern district has naturally and rightfully become a part of the 115 district as was predicted by Bern in 2013. As many community members have said to me, you can argue about where to move the line, but you cannot argue that the line needs moved.”

A. Sudbeck passed the microphone to A. Noe, who presented the land owner survey by section to Gordon, as well as those present.

“I think it is important for the record to note that the proposal prepared by the USD 115 board and the resident of the Bern community was developed through a thoughtful and deliberate careful analysis of the information that is most important to the decision about where the land transfer boundary should be drawn,” A. Noe said.

A. Noe said they looked at and analyzed three primary pieces of information including number of students in the petitioned area and which schools they attend, travel times to each school and land owner preferences. A. Noe presented the information by township and section of the petitioned area.

“It is our hope that the analysis that we present today would give any neutral thinking person the ability to step through those three pieces of information and make a determination about what a fair an equitable and reasonable boundary should look like for this region,” A. Noe said.

Below is the data presented by A. Noe from the following Nemaha County townships: Clear Creek, Nemaha, Washington, Gilman, Adams and Harrison.

CLEAR CREEK TOWNSHIP

# of USD 113 Students

2 (13%)

# of USD 115 Students

14 (88%)

Travel Time to Sabetha

33-41 minutes

Travel Time to Seneca

22-27 minutes

Landowner Preference USD 113

2%

Landowner Preference Neutral

7%

Landowner Preference Unable to Reach

25%

Landowner Preference USD 115

66%

NEMAHA TOWNSHIP

# of USD 113 Students

0 (0%)

# of USD 115 Students

20 (100%)

Travel Time to Sabetha

22-33 minutes

Travel Time to Seneca

9-21 minutes

Landowner Preference USD 113

2%

Landowner Preference Neutral

10%

Landowner Preference Unable to Reach

3%

Landowner Preference USD 115

82%

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP

# of USD 113 Students

29 (38%)

# of USD 115 Students

47 (62%)

Travel Time to Sabetha

16-25 minutes

Travel Time to Seneca

12-21 minutes

Landowner Preference USD 113

21%

Landowner Preference Neutral

8%

Landowner Preference Unable to Reach

23%

Landowner Preference USD 115

48%

GILMAN TOWNSHIP

# of USD 113 Students

4 (10%)

# of USD 115 Students

37 (90%)

Travel Time to Sabetha

13-26 minutes

Travel Time to Seneca

11-17 minutes

Landowner Preference USD 113

20%

Landowner Preference Neutral

0%

Landowner Preference Unable to Reach

9%

Landowner Preference USD 115

71%

ADAMS & HARRISON TOWNSHIPS

# of USD 113 Students

2 (3%)

# of USD 115 Students

60 (97%)

Travel Time to Sabetha

17-27 minutes

Travel Time to Seneca

13-21 minutes

Landowner Preference USD 113

22%

Landowner Preference Neutral

8%

Landowner Preference Unable to Reach

8%

Landowner Preference USD 115

63%

After presenting the data, A. Noe said that 94 percent of the students in the map area — which included the current USD 115 district — attend USD 115 today.

“This is a natural pattern and trend that exists where people live and what they are doing today,” A. Noe said. “Travel time, you are going to hear that the travel time is equal to both towns. This is only true from O Road east. From O Road west, it is much faster to get to Nemaha Central. Sixty-one percent are supportive of transferring [their land] to 115 and again the only section that there is any reasonable amount of controversy is Section 1.13, which is where the Bern territory exists.

“It is our hope that as the state reviews this information, they will see why USD No. 115 and students of Bern have asked for what they have asked for, and believe that we can work through a solution that is equitable and fair for the entire region, so no school, no child, no future family should have to suffer through this. There is a solution here.”

Following USD 115’s presentation, Gordon asked for clarification on the maps and township sections that were presented. R. Mosteller confirmed for Gordon that O Road is on the “extreme west side of town [Bern].”

When looking at data for the Washington Township, which is where the City of Bern lies, Gordon asked USD 115 why they didn’t draw the district line at O Road, since there are so many students in the City of Bern, that are intermixed between the two districts. The petition currently asks for the district boundary to be drawn at P Road, which would put the entire City of Bern in the USD 115 district, if approved by the KSBE.

“Anytime the legislature engages in redrawing district maps, or county commissioners draw lines, we do the best we can do to catch what the overall situation looks like, so even in the City of Bern, there are 23 [USD] 115 students and 15 [USD] 113 students,” Ney said. “Like we said, the traditional Bern district went to V Road. So when we were looking at this, some of this data didn’t come at the time that we proposed in July 2023 until later. So, the data has only backed up the reasonableness of our approach. So, you got to draw the line somewhere.”

A. Noe added that O Road “would have been an acceptable answer, but that was something we couldn’t agree on in mediation, but that would have been an acceptable answer for 115.”

Then, Ney said they were looking at “catching the equity and catching where the students are first and foremost.”

“Is there high valuation land in the petitioned area and in Bern? Yes,” Ney said. “Would we be giving up more valuation just because there is industry here and not in the rural area and farmland to the west? Yes. But ultimately, we are looking at the students. We did the best we could with contiguous lines that would follow roads or sections.”

Gordon asked how many students live in the petitioned area that attend USD 113.

“Twenty-one, representing 25 percent of the students in the entire area,” A. Noe said.

“The 21 students that attend 113, are they attending by choice or are they attending because they were not allowed to enroll in 115?” Gordon asked.

“I would assume choice,” A. Noe said.

“So, help me explain to the state board, why should the state board force those students out of the district that they want to attend now?” Gordon said.

“Any time you draw lines, you are going to force families out,” Ney said. “You have to look at it from an equitable stance. If you are trying to, just for transfer purposes, make sure that Sabetha is protected first and foremost. The lines are going to get really messy. But if you look at it from a regional perspective, and an equitable perspective as a whole, we drew these lines to acknowledge that there are more Sabetha students that are in the traditional area of the Bern district than there are right now of the Nemaha Central district. We didn’t include that. When you go to Bern, yes, 115 has more students just in the city of Bern that go to 115, and they’re paying their taxes to Sabetha.”

“Twenty-one students represents two percent of 113’s population. It is a very nominal number to deal with a somewhat already drastic inequity on the other side,” A. Noe said.

“How many out of district students have asked to enroll in 115, average over the past two years, that were not allowed to enroll in 115?” Gordon said.

“If they were in good standing, we accepted all of them,” said Tavis Desormiers, USD 115 Superintendent.

A. Noe reminded those present that a $24 million bond issue was approved to help with the capacity issues in USD 115.

“If you want to talk about tax inequities, the students of Nemaha Central have been attending school in mobile units and trailers for the past two years,” A. Noe said.

“If the issue is, it is not fair, we are taking all of these out of district students, we’re not collecting their taxes, they don’t have representation in our district, then, why are you taking so many out of district students?” Gordon asked.

“Because Seneca is the Bern community’s home,” Ney said. “That comes from paying taxes, worshiping, cultural centers and community interests. That traditional community interest has flowed into Seneca. So, the lines draw themselves when the families move with their feet regardless of the fact that those tax dollars that they are sending go somewhere else that their kids don’t attend. This is a chronic inequity over the past 10 years that has only grown.”

USD 113 Presentation

USD 113 Attorney David Cooper started the presentation for Sabetha and Axtell, while USD 113 Superintendent Todd Evans finished up the presentation.

Cooper reviewed K.S.A. 72-532, which permits land transfer between two school districts in two circumstances — written agreement and petition. Cooper said two written agreements for land transfer have been completed in the last year between USD 113 and Jackson Heights USD No. 335, and USD 113 and Vermillion USD No. 380. The other method is by petition, which requires a public hearing.

“This is that public hearing,” Cooper said.

Cooper said KSBE has a set of guidelines and considerations that must be followed when making a decision on transferring land.

“Consideration one — is ultimate consideration — is the effect the transfer will have on students. Students everywhere, in the affected region, in the receiving district, in the giving district,” Cooper said. “It’s got to include the consideration if the transfer of this territory will add or improve the public schools in this State generally and equalized benefits and burdens of education throughout the affected communities. So, is there an improvement by moving this ground from one district to the other? Will it equalize education in Kansas by transferring this territory? Those are primary considerations from the BOE’s guidelines for transfer considerations.”

“Second to that, is the consideration of, in order to justify taking land from 113 and giving it to 115 a weighty, substantial, material change in circumstance must exist considering the interest of all the affected children in determining whether the children be better served by moving the line,” Cooper continued. “Will any student get a better education or have better educational opportunities to them by moving the line? The simple answer to these things is this petition for transfer has no — ZERO — effect on students. Students are going to school where they want to go to school. That is the assumption in the petition.”

Cooper said this petition tries to “force 21 students to go to a different school and force them to become out-of-district students if they continue going to 113.”

“It does not change the status quo on the schools, the educational opportunities or the students, but it does negatively impact equalization,” Cooper said. “There is no material change in circumstances, let alone one of a substantial and weighty nature. The transfer proposed in the petition does not better serve children anywhere. It has a detrimental effect on USD 113.”

Cooper reviewed the history of the area schools, as well as their consolidations.

• Axtell unified with Bern and Summerfield in 1966.

• Sabetha and Wetmore unified and formed USD 441 in 1964-65.

“Then, when you fast forward then to 2009, 448 Axtell, Bern and Summerfield first went to Nemaha Valley and asked to consolidate and they were turned away,” Cooper said. “They then went to B&B USD 451 and asked to consolidate and they were turned away. So, in 2010, 488 went to 441 Sabetha and asked to consolidate and they were welcomed.”

Cooper said an election was held and 82 percent of the people who lived in USD 448 voted in favor of the consolidation and USD 113 Prairie Hills was formed in 2010.

• In 2011, B&B and Nemaha Valley consolidated to become USD 115.

“In 2012, the Bern attendance centers were closed,” Cooper said. “In 2014, the B&B attendance centers were closed. In 2023, the Wetmore Attendance Centers were closed. The impact of the closure of the Wetmore Attendance Center were addressed through mediated agreements with [USD] 380 and [USD] 335. On the lower right hand corner, the area in green is territory that is currently 113 territory that will be transferred to [USD] 335 Jackson Heights in June. That agreement was signed in December 2023. In the lower left hand corner, the areas that are marked 2.2, 2.1 and 1.3 are being transferred by agreement to [USD] 380. However, the area 1.3 is subject on the petition by 115.”

Cooper said in June, the KSBE will be confronted to transfer that same piece of ground to two different school districts, one by agreement and one by petition.

“The proposal that was made and was rejected last summer proposed O Road as the dividing line with the transfer of territory in western Nemaha County to 113 to be a valuation neutral trade,” Cooper said. “The mantra that it’s not about the money is disproven, that a valuation neutral trade was rejected at every turn. It is about the money, because nothing about the students will change.”

Then, Cooper mentioned the landowner survey that was done by USD 115 volunteers. He said there is a KSDE form available to collect the data from landowners in a survey and this form was not used.

“The results of the informal telephone survey should not be influential on anybody’s decision,” Cooper said.

Cooper then said USD No. 115 has made plenty of “choices” throughout the years that have gotten the districts to where they are today.

“115, when it was 451, rejected to consolidate with 488,” Cooper said. “115 made a choice to accept all of these out-of-district students. I am not saying it is an irrational choice. State base aid follows those students, but the decision by 115 to accept out-of-district students is not just the affected petitioned territory. The petition repeats over and over that 115 is at capacity and does not have the capacity to take that other 21 students that would be forced to switch home districts by this petition. Distance is not a material factor to the extent the distance becomes different. It’s a difference of five minutes. It’s not material in deciding where we go and where we shop.

“The proposed transfer doesn’t improve public schools in Kansas at all. The petition says it will maintain the status quo that exists today. The proposed transfer breaks contiguity of the 113 district. It would create another district in Kansas where there are two lobes of a district completely separated by another district. There is no material change in circumstances justifying this transfer of territory. The Wetmore closure is not a circumstance justifying the Bern territory.”

Cooper pointed out that the Bern Attendance Centers closed in 2012 and B&B closed in 2014.

“We’re a decade past that. Adjusting the district boundary does not better serve the education of all students, let alone any student,” Cooper said. “The transfer only changes the status quo by shifting the tax base from 113 to 115. The petition should be denied.”

Then, Evans — who has been the superintendent for USD 113 for 10 years — discussed multiple points on why KSBE should deny the petition.

“We are talking about over 77 square miles of property. Over $18 million in valuation, which is a considerable amount of land in USD 113, a district that has already transferred land out of its district because of the closure of the Wetmore building,” Evans said.

Evans said taxes and equalization are relevant because the KSBE guidelines for land transfer discuss “the impact on equalization of benefits and burdens of education throughout the effected communities.”

Evans discussed school finance and the different funds districts use.

“There’s four different funds that school districts use, one is the general fund. That is the 20 mills that every school district in Kansas applies when they levy taxes,” Evans said. “The next highest tax is supplemental general. The supplemental general budget is used to help support the general fund and the operation of the school district.”

Evans said that the States’ equalization formula is important when discussing the different funds.

“The State has a great program where poorer districts get equalized fund so that students education is not negatively impacted by their zip code,” Evans said. “So if they live in a poor district, the equalization comes in and kicks in and helps provide a good education for those kids. Now, the equalization formula does not make everything equal because there are districts in the state of Kansas that are wealthy beyond the equalization formula. So, why does it matter? USD 113 is one of the 89 percent of the districts that receive equalization aid on the supplemental general budget.”

Evans continued saying that USD 115 is “historically a district that has been wealthy beyond equalization.”

“Does the equalization make it equal?” Evans said. “It does up to a point. Once districts get so wealthy, the equalization doesn’t factor in anymore. Burlington, on an average valuation per pupil [AVPP], is the wealthiest district in Kansas. They are four times as wealthy by that measurement, so they do not get equalization aid. It does equalize things, but not completely in the State of Kansas.”

Evans then looked at the difference in average mills rates in the State of Kansas, USD 113 and USD 115 over a five-year period — 2018-2022. These mill rates just look at the general fund, supplemental general and capital outlay.

Evans said the State of Kansas average is 44.62 mills, USD 113 is 41.65 mills and USD 115 is 35 mills.

“[USD 115] is considerably less. In fact, 78 percent of what the state average mill rate is, they are traditionally a low tax district,” Evans said. “School districts can choose to levy less taxes and have fewer resources available. That is kind of what a board of education does, is they try and find that balance between taxes and resources.”

Then, Evans looks at the expenditure per pupil in the State of Kansas, USD 113 and USD 115 over a five-year period — 2018-2022.

Evans said the State of Kansas average is $12,817 per student, USD 113 is $12,722 per student and USD 115 is $12,786 per student.

“I do want to point something out for USD 113, that average is misleading because USD 113 maintains three campuses based on this information,” Evans said. “It is much more expensive to manage three campuses than it is to manage one campus.”

Evans said transferring that $18 million in valuation from USD 113 to USD 115 would result in USD 115 taxpayers paying 17 percent less money to get to revenue neutral.

“All of that because of where they are on that equalization formula,” Evans said. “All of that is going to be a benefit to those tax payers. That is a great thing for those tax payers, but who pays for it? The State of Kansas tax payers are going to have to pay for it because what’s going to be made up is in the equalization formula.”

Evans said the risk also exists for a district to spend more on the resources. There is potentially an inequity on the education provided to those kids because of available resources. Evans also said, according to the KSBE, a land transfer request, which is primarily to gain a financial advantage for individuals, is not a material change in circumstances.

“It’s pretty hard to say that it is not about gaining a financial advantage for individuals,” Evans said.

Evans also stated that a bond issue that exists prior to a transfer does not impact transferred land. Therefore, if this land were to transfer to USD 115, the landowners in the petitioned area will not have to pay for the bond that USD 115 just passed.

Evans also pointed out some key items he would consider if he was a KSBE member, including:

• The precedence that this land transfer would set across the State. This decision doesn’t just impact USD 113 and USD 115, but they impact potentially every district in the State of Kansas. Evans said since he has been in Kansas, the KSBE has been “pushing consolidation.” Consolidations included closure of buildings.

• New strategies that are being used following closure of buildings including the disorganization strategy. Evans said if he was a KSBE member, he would not be too happy with the “galvanizing of neighboring districts to form alliances to collectively seize resources during a time of district vulnerability, when they close a building.” Evans discussed the threat of disorganizing USD 113 following the closure of the Wetmore Academic Center.

“The Wetmore school closure, the threat of a disorganization petition was used in order to influence the USD 115 board and the 113 board to do some different things. The 113 board was feeling very vulnerable at the time. This is something to me that is very ironic. In this very room, a representative of the Wetmore Community Action Group held up a packet of information and said, ‘I have the disorganization petition right here. That’s why we need to go after 113 at this time. We can make them do whatever we want them to do.’ As a State Board of Education member, I would have a problem with that.”

• The domino effect. Evans said USD 113 educated a lot of students from Hiawatha USD No. 415. He asked, “Does that means we go after USD 415 land, and then USD 415 goes to another district and so on?”

• Culture of conflict. Evans said the “neighbor versus neighbor” situation is not healthy.

• Then, Evans added to Cooper’s points earlier about choices and natural consequences. Evans said Sabetha-Wetmore was the only school “willing to give Bern a chance” when Nemaha Valley chose not to consolidate with them. Evans also pointed out that accepting out-of-district students is “good for the district.” Therefore, with the approximately 71-1/2 Full Time Equivalency students USD 115 is educating from the petitioned area, USD 115 is getting $362,792.

Evans also said that when Bern closed, Nemaha Central recruited those students because they were in “declining enrollment.”

“Those students really helped that building because when you are in declining enrollment as a rural school, you’re going to end up doing a reduction in force or something tragic would happen,” Evans said.

Evans also said Nemaha Central has a “great problem.”

“They are at capacity. So, they have grown in the last 10 years by 126 students,” Evans said. “That is unheard of in rural America. Schools are declining in enrollment, but they [USD 115] are increasing enrollment. That is a great problem to have, because that helps them out at capacity to maximize the educational dollar that they spend on students.”

Then, Evans added that USD 115 made the choice to not file a land transfer petition with the State following USD 113’s denial to negotiate.

Busing was another topic Evans discussed. Evans said he was appreciative that USD 115 chose to bus out-of-district students.

“I think that is a great service that they were able to provide,” Evans said.

Evans said USD 115 also made choices about taxation, saying that Nemaha Central has never had to levy a Capital Outlay tax. USD 115 also chose to pass a bond issue for facility improvements.

“I applaud them. What a great thing. You will not regret spending money and education of children. That was a great thing, but that was a decision by the school district,” Evans said. “Those are all choices that we made. The one thing that surprises me or sticks out to me like a sore thumb is the blaming of USD 113 for some of these problems that they allegedly have.”

• Democratic process. Evans said the democratic process is relevant here.

“USD 115 made some choices. USD 115 now is requesting land from 113, a legally consolidated school district,” Evans said. “What is unique about that for the State BOE and what makes the democratic process in this situation so important is that the voters of the former Axtell, Bern, Summerfield school district voted 82 percent in 2010 in favor of consolidation. This includes voters from the area and the importance of that election is critical to our democratic process.”

Evans said if he was a State BOE member, he would ask himself if this warrants the extreme intervention of land transfer.

“One of the first questions I would ask myself, ‘is the petitioning district the poorer district?’ The answer is, ‘no.’ ‘Does the transfer better equalize the resources for the State of Kansas?’ The answer is, ‘no, and in fact, it makes it worse.’ ‘Does the petitioning district educate over 95 percent of the students in the petitioned area? The answer is, ‘no.’ ‘Should the petition overrule the voice of the elector?’ I think that is a question that everyone needs to answer. Where is the balance between the democratic process and this land transfer request?” Evans said.

Evans’ last point was about the percentage of out-of-district students in both districts, as well as the State.

Evans said in 2022-23, USD 115’s average for out-of-district students was 17 percent, while USD 113’s average was 12 percent. Evans also said that the number of students USD 115 received from the Wetmore closure was two, which is “statistically insignificant,” and USD 113 and USD 115 were both educating 123 out-of-district students in 2022-23.

Evans said that in 2022, the Kansas legislature passed HB 2267, making out-of-district students a requirement as long as school districts had capacity.

“So, the legislature is saying that the land isn’t as important as the students are. It indicates that diminished level of importance of where the students live,” Evans said. “So just thinking about the conclusions, is there a substantial weighty material of change? That would have been the closure of Wetmore. The impact of those students is insignificant. The number of students attending 113 and 115 are identical. This information in and of itself should be enough to validate the denial of this transfer request.”

Following Cooper’s and Evans’ presentations, Gordon had follow up questions.

“In the territory that is requesting to be transferred in the petition, how many of your local school board members make up or represent that area?” Gordon said.

“Two,” Evans said, while USD 115’s administration and patrons were verbally disagreeing.

Gordon continued by asking about the survey method USD 115 used.

“There was discussion that their survey method was not appropriate because they did not use the right form, but did your client engage in any survey?” Gordon asked.

“They did not,” Cooper said.

Then, Gordon asked Cooper what would happen if the KSBE would vote on the petition prior to voting on the agreement with Vermillion USD No. 380.

“What does that do to the rest of your agreement?” Gordon said.

“We would have to start over,” Cooper said. “We agreed to transfer specified land and if we don’t have it [the land] anymore, we would have to go back to the drawing board.”

“Would it be your preference that the State board made the findings on the agreement before they make findings on the petition?” Gordon said.

“Yes,” Cooper said.

Gordon then posed the same question to USD 115, on which item the KSBE votes on first.

“USD 115 prefers that the agreement goes first because that has already been agreed and they were aware of that,” Ney said. “The reason we petitioned for the little chunk down by 380, was because we would be prohibited from filing another petition for two years, upon the filing of this petition under State statute. This is the time to ask for that, in the alternative if the agreement with 380 is not approved. Council and the hearing officer is well aware that has always been the anticipation that the agreements would be voted on first.”

Gordon then asked about the mediations that took place in December.

“This may be going too far into your mediation, but I’m going to do it anyway,” Gordon said. “In the agreement, there is a section that had been referred to as 1.3, which is about 2.5 square miles. Was there a discussion in the mediation that that land would go to 115 instead of 380, or basically, why would you enter into the agreement to give that to 380, and not 115? And that is probably not a fair question.”

“First off, the statutory process regarding mediation is a negotiation between two districts, and it has to be between two districts and 113 took the position that we are going to negotiate one-on-one. One at a time,” Cooper said. “We started with 380, and the negotiation was the Goff area affected by the Wetmore [closure]. We gave it to 380. Then, the Wetmore area, affected by the closure of the Wetmore [Academic Center], we negotiated to 335 and then we negotiated with 115. To be clear, we did not start negotiating with 335 until we had reached agreement with 380.”

Then, Gordon asked how many of USD 113’s 123 out-of-district students were virtual students.

“I want to say zero or two, and there is a question there about September 20th [student head count day] and when we counted virtual students. I would say a maximum of two students,” Evans said.

“You referred to territory that you originally requested in trade. How many students at the time that you made the proposal lived in that territory?” Gordon asked.

“I don’t remember, but we selected those parcels of properties because we had students living there that were attending school in Axtell. It was nearer in proximity to Axtell than it was to Seneca,” Evans said.

“Ignoring the whole open enrollment statute for a second, if the petition were to not be approved, and I’m not saying that the petition would do this. If they [USD 115] determine, we don’t have the capacity for these 75 students [in the petitioned area]. Go back to your home district. Does your district have the capacity to take them?” Gordon said.

“Absolutely,” Evans said.

“Would you have to stop allowing your current out-of-district enrollment in order to take those students back?” Gordon said.

“No,” Evans said.

“We talked a lot about the 2010 election,” Gordon said. “Do you think the results of the election would be the same if it were held again today?”

“I have no idea,” Evans said. “Because of the closure of Bern, I would say probably not.”

USD 115 Rebuttal/Closing Statement

At this point in the hearing, USD 115 elected to give their closing statement prior to the public comment portion of the meeting. Ney and A. Noe were the two representatives for USD 115 who spoke during their closing arguments.

Ney said, “we heard a lot about zero changes in circumstances and about statute of limitations.”

“Once you make a decision to consolidate, you can’t come back and ask for that land to be transferred later,” Ney said. “That simply does not work in a redistricting consideration. Every other type of district redraws its boundaries every 10 years under the census to equalize to provide representation.”

Ney said there was a valuation neutral requirement for USD 115 in the land transfer proposals, however, that was not “requirement for 335 and 380.”

“Valuation neutral does not take into account the fact that Sabetha has profited more than $10 million from the petitioned area since closing Bern in 2012,” Ney said.

Then, Ney touched on the landowner survey form, which was mentioned by Cooper.

“The form that was provided in the guidelines was an option,” Ney said. “We chose to do a telephone survey.”

Ney also said that the affects on students in the area obviously disregards Bern.

“It disregards the ability of tax dollars to flow to the district that is educating the students,” Ney said.

Next, Ney said there has “clearly been a material change in circumstances.”

“There has been a mass exodus,” Ney said. “USD 115 has had to pass a bond issue to expand capacity to continue to educate those students who want to be in Nemaha Central. Equalization formula, how this will somehow force Kansas taxpayers to pay in to Nemaha Central. I’m not sure why 113 is concerned about Johnson County. I’m not sure why they insist on keeping USD 115 down so that Johnson County and Sedgwick doesn’t have to pay into an equalization formula.”

Ney noted that the bond issue “doesn’t impact taxes,” as no new landowners will have to pay if the transfer goes through.

As far as a “precedent for consolidations,” Ney asked why this transfer process exists, if not to equalize long-term trends of out-of-district students?

Then, as for the democratic process, Ney said it is “Hotel California.”

“Consolidation is a vote,” Ney said. “You get a choice in that, but in land transfer in Kansas, it’s ‘Hotel California.’ You can check in, but you cannot check out. You do not get to vote your way out of a bad deal. If the State board can’t see inequity it this circumstance, maybe it should be up to the voters. Maybe the legislature should allow you to check out, because you got a bad deal.”

Wrapping up USD 115’s closing argument, A. Noe discussed the financial impact. She asked, “will the transfer create undue financial hardship for USD 113 if the transfer is approved?”

“You have $285,000 from the supplemental fund that USD 113 will continue to receive due to the equalization formula, so that doesn’t exist, and you have about $65,000 in Capital Outlay fund and $50,000 in revenue for the transportation fund,” A. Noe said. “So, we are talking about an actual real impact of about $100,000 to USD 113, where in this room, Bern has been fighting for 12 years over $100,000 for Capital Outlay tax. The people in Sabetha, I don’t know if you know this or not, but the budget for 113 is $15.3 million. So, whether you estimate $100,000 or $300,000, you estimate about 1.92 percent of 113’s overall budget. So, to suggest that USD 113 students are going to suffer because of this change, it’s disingenuous. It’s not going to impact actual students’ education in 113.”

Then, A. Noe asked if the transfer will create long-term inequality across the state?

“The answer is ‘no,’” A. Noe said. “If the transfer is approved as proposed, if the transfer to 335 and 380 as proposed, and the transfer to 115 as proposed, USD 113’s assessed valuation per pupil will still be higher than 90 percent of their peer group. USD 113’s AVPP will still be higher than 65 percent of the school districts in the State. If the State did make a decision to equalize all of the tax revenue across the State, this number that USD 113 will have will be 30 percent higher than that equalization level. There is no problem or inequity with 113.”

Finally, A. Noe asked if Bern owes USD 113 for consolidation?

“The answer is, ‘no,’” A. Noe said. “USD 113 has received over $10 million from the Bern consolidation deal and the subsequent funding that has followed since the school closed in 2012. That is $10.3 million that 113 got from that vote in 2010 and if the families did owe anything, I think we can all agree that that debt has been paid in full. It is time for change and neither school district is going to suffer on the other side of this agreement.”

Public comment

Multiple patrons — proponents and opponents of the land transfer — spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Proponents of Land Transfer

Kris Anderson — who is a new board member to USD 115 — said a lot of the concern was representation and that the people of Bern had representation and “the opportunity to be represented on the board.” Anderson said in regards to the 2010 election that the reason the vote went the way it did was because the people of Bern “really wanted their school to stay open, when their school was closed, they were also told they could take their land, go where they wanted it to go.” Anderson also said that Nemaha County is blessed with two wonderful communities with wonderful school systems in both communities.

Sheila Haverkamp agreed with Anderson, saying that, “we chose Sabetha over Seneca at the time because Seneca told us the truth and said ‘we’ll probably close you,’ and Sabetha told us ‘we won’t. We will reevaluate in two years.’ We should be able to have our kids go to school and our taxes follow them.”

Josh Meyer agreed with the previous comments, but added that there was an issue when one of his children was attending USD 113 and a bus driver not being able to pick up his daughter due to a time crunch one day.

Kate Meyer, who lives south of Bern between O and Q Roads, said her children will continue to attend Nemaha Central regardless of the outcome of the petition. She added that Seneca has everything they need from tractor supplies to food. She also said that they attend church in Seneca, and their children’s friends are in Seneca. She also said the roads to get to Sabetha are “an absolute disaster,” as she drives them every day to work. She also mentioned that she was not afraid of any “retaliation from her testimony,” but some of her “friends and neighbors do not have the luxury to speak before you freely today without concerns for their very livelihoods.”

Renee Meyer — who lives two miles south and 3/4 miles east of Bern and has two students who currently attend Nemaha Central — asked for their land to be transferred.

Valerie Niehues, whose family owns 520 acres in the disputed area, said they are in favor of the petition, and that driving five miles doesn’t make a lot of difference to some people, but to some it does. She also said that all of their business was conducted in Seneca.

Curt Sudbeck, who is a 2000 graduate of Bern High School, said many promises were made to Bern when consolidation talks were happening. He said that “today’s discussion is not to hinder or leverage one school against the other, because I wholeheartedly believe that both USD 113 and 115 will continue to thrive and provide top-notch educational opportunities to their students regardless of the outcome of today’s discussion.” He asked for the patrons of Bern to finally have voice after 12 years. He also said, “decisions regarding USD 113 should not be made by patrons that live west of Bern, as there is very little insight into the daily operations that carry on. Instead, these families should have a voice in the district that they are most closely aligned with, which is USD 115.”

Brent Lortscher — who is a resident of the Bern community and was a board member when USD 488 and USD 441 consolidated — said that during consolidation talks, it was always a concern that if the Bern families could transfer their land if the school ever closed. Lortscher said former USD 441 Superintendent Dennis Stones replied saying, ‘If your school closed, you can take your kids and take your land.’ Lortscher said this was a promise that patrons went to the voting booth with. Lortscher said his stance today is the same that it was in 2012. “The decision should not be if land should be transferred, the decision needs to be where the line should be located.” He also said that “O Road made logical rational sense, because O Road determines if an ambulance or fire department mutual aid comes from either Seneca or Sabetha. This line would allow the City of Bern to remain with Prairie Hills, which was the district willing to give Bern a chance. I request the west side of Bern be transferred to Nemaha Central.”

Karen Mosteller requested that the petition go through, because she has been “paying taxes to a school district that has not been educating my grandchildren.” She also mentioned that they have no say on who is elected to the school board and they cannot run for a school board position.

Neil Haverkamp said they also live in the disputed area and that Seneca has always been their “second home.” He also hoped that the “promise” of land transfer could be fulfilled and that they can have representation.

Bern landowner Kristina Sudbeck said that the representatives on the current USD 113 board have had meetings in Sabetha and Axtell, but have made no attempt to talk to Bern patrons. She said, “if this doesn’t go through, we will be back here in two years once the statute of limitations is up. We will be back because our voice matters.”

Mark Sudbeck said he would like to see his land transferred.

Kim Sudbeck said she has two sons that attend Nemaha Central and they also support the land transfer. She discussed the “promise” that was made to Bern landowners during consolidation. She said, “The resurgence of vocalization from the Bern landowners has indeed spurned from the Wetmore school closure, and the Wetmore patrons did get a quick land transfer to Jackson Heights, leaving Bern landowners wondering why they cannot get what they have asked for, for the last 10 years.” She also claimed that the Sabetha school district wanted to keep all conversations regarding land transfer “behind closed doors.”

Carla Kramer, who resides near Baileyville, said, “I think we can agree that while Bern misses the school, our kids are getting along fine at the respective schools that they have chosen.” She said 12 years ago, “Nemaha Central had administration and school board members at Nemaha Central who were unwilling to pursue the transfer at that point. Fortunately now, we do have a new school board and administration who is willing to stand up and say this isn’t right.”

Dan Korber said when Bern closed, it was a “seamless transition” to Nemaha Central and this petition is about having a voice in “our children’s education.”

Tiffany Korber, who lives on L4 Road, said they can’t “imagine putting their kids on the curvy roads to Sabetha.”

Curt Haverkamp said, “This land transfer needs to be about the kids and what is best for them. Taking funding after closing a school is wrong. With the new open enrollment law going into effect, I am very concerned about my daughters being able to attend NC. Transferring this land would alleviate that concern.”

Marcia Korber said she lives nine miles north of Seneca and feels “it is important for our family and future generations for them to have a voice in their school.”

Kevin Sudbeck said he looks toward the future of having a family and asked that his land be transferred to USD 115.

Jessica Stallbaumer gave the definition of pragmatic, which is “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than emotional or theoretical considerations.” She said her family naturally gravitated toward Seneca and that their land and their voice be transferred to USD 115.

Kaitlyn Swart said that the present district lines no longer reflect the need of her family and that of the students. She also mentioned the geographic closeness of Seneca to her and the “intense investment in our Seneca community,” is why she wants her land transferred.

Opponents of Land Transfer

Ed Steinlage said Evans covered everything he wanted to say and yielded his time.

Chris Kroll — who lives in Fairview — said his kids live in the USD 415 Hiawatha district, but attend Sabetha. He said, “It’s not a matter of distance or convenience. It is just a matter of choice. If this goes, I would like to petition formally for my land in Brown County and 415 district and my tax dollars to go with my kid to Sabetha 113. I also have a farm in Jackson County. I would like that to follow as well. Do you see the Pandora’s box you’re opening by allowing this?”

Rhonda Spellmeier — who resides in the Sabetha city limits — questioned the validity of the petition as filed. She said, “The petition with the State says you have to have a recent and weighty material circumstances. The petition really should have been filed back in 2012 and 2013. That is what was appropriate. My concern is if this happens, do we start to petition 415 for land because we have a lot of students who come to us from that district?” She also said she doesn’t believe “the landowner survey was completed before the petition was filed. My brother-in-law owns about 400 acres of the land in the petitioned area. He was not called until March 8 to be asked where he wanted his land to go. This petition was filed before Feb. 15. My concerns are not so much the land transfer, but that the petition wasn’t filed correctly. I don’t think the contents were correct.”

Doug Wertenberger, who lives on V Road, said he was in the Bern district and they chose to send their kids to Sabetha. He said the people of Bern are “more than welcome in the community and we could supply grocery stores and all the elements of the community that seem to have been left out of Sabetha. We do have those things. We would like to have those students as well.”

Sabetha resident Michael Bachelor discussed school closures and consolidations, saying “when you take on the burden, you have the scars to show for it. You don’t just give up the land.” He also said, “There are some good points from the people toward the west, but the whole State I would challenge you, what do you have in mind? The Hotel California thing can’t be solved between 113 and 115, it has to be solved statewide. What’s your plan for how to handle that?”

Sabetha resident Donna Keim — who has grandchildren in both districts — said that “both school districts are amazing in how they educate the kids.” She also said, “I see 77 square miles and $18 million in valuation of land… I think it would affect our school system greatly, because we have two K-12 campuses and it takes quite a bit to educate those children. I’m afraid that if those dollars are lost, how that could hurt both communities and both campuses.”

Sabetha resident Bill Kent said this is a decision between “two communities that are salt of the earth communities. Hardworking people of integrity on both sides of this issue.” He said, “It seems that now — after an election where more than 80 percent of people chose to consolidate — we are wanting to, years later with the advantages of hindsight, wanting to overturn a vote of the people.” He also said that the “bitter division when USD 113 closed the Wetmore Attendance Center remains alive. Could it be that there is discord being sewn in other communities to bring USD 113 to its knees?”

Scott Wedel, who lives in Sabetha, said he is against the USD 115 petition. He said that the timing of the petition “that USD 115 is requesting now makes little sense to me and appears very opportunistic.” He also said the transfer could set a “dangerous precedent” and that “too much time, energy and resources have been spent on this issue.”

Jared Hartter, who lives in the old Fairview district, said his property is in the Hiawatha district. He also said, “You do not have to live within the district boundaries to be actively involved in your schools and in my experience, out-of-district students are not valued less just because they live outside of district boundaries.”

Myra Hartter continued with J. Hartter’s perspectives, saying, “he [Jared] can empathize with situation” because he (Jared) had out-of-district kids as well. However, he (Jared) had included that his individual preferences for living outside of the district his children attend “do not move boundaries nor are they justifications to do so.” The Hartters also asked, “If the State grants USD 115 a favorable decision in this case, is the State then ready to render favorable decisions throughout the state when similar cases arise?”

Brad Lippert, a Sabetha resident, said that a lot of USD 115’s numbers that they have presented are different than what they have presented in the past. Lippert said USD 115 Superintendent Desormiers testified 2-1/2 weeks ago “before the Kansas House K-12 Education Budget Committee that there were 95 out-of-district students attending USD 115. I suspect that is the difference between 2022-23 and the current year, but the question is what happened to those 28 students.” Lippert also said that USD 115 never stated any “facts about students who were disadvantaged by the current situation. Nor did they state at any time, any benefits for the students should this petition be granted. If there is no benefit to the students to transfer a whole bunch of territory, why are we even here tonight? Because after all, what we’re all here for is to educate the students.”

Kent Saylor — former USD 113 school board member — said the USD 113 board wanted to sit down with Nemaha Central in small committees instead of full BOEs to have a “coordinated effort” in reaching a solution for land transfer. He said, “We are not trying to hide anything. We just know that Wetmore was going on and there was a lot of noise there.”

Casey Stohs — Beattie resident and Axtell parent — said they live in the Marysville school district, but choose to send their children to school in Axtell. She said, “I feel that if this goes through, I just feel like this could cause an effect across the state with lines. It just wastes a lot of time with the state board. It takes time and money away from our kids and its just where it should be.”

Dale Buessing — Beattie resident and Axtell parent — said they also live in the Marysville school district, but choose to send their children to school in Axtell. He said, “The great thing about America is we have the freedom to choose. I feel like the Bern area residents have the same choice [like he does about where to send his kids to school].” He also said, “The landowners and residents had a voice 15 years ago. They still do today. They chose to form 113. Some feel like it is in their best interest to choose 115 and they choose 115. That is their choice. They have options. Just as I have options. Unless the State looks at new boundaries on all sides of every district in the state, then I don’t see how it is fair to transfer this land to 115. After all, 113 and 115 educate almost the same number of out-of-district students. What is fair? I don’t know, but the right thing to do in my opinion is to let the vote from 15 years ago stand.”

Charles Gruber — former USD 441 board member — said he didn’t make any promises to keep schools open back then. He also said, “I know we are spending some money on litigation and that should be going to our kids. I would like you to reject this offer, also because you’re opening a can of worms that is going to come back and a lot of school districts that are going to be petitioning different things.”

Rachelle Wertenberger — Sabetha graduate and mother to two Sabetha Middle School students — asked, “If we really believe that all students will receive top notch education, then what are we doing here?” She said, “This seems to be more about emotions and egos of the adults involved.” She also stated that the Wetmore closure was ‘ugly’ would be an understatement. She continued saying, “This feels like a revenge led by a small minority who didn’t get what they wanted. I find it odd that a Wetmore representative is helping 115 now, after she fought so hard against 113. Because Wetmore was closed, we have begun this long and vindictive battle. How do I know it’s vindictive? She said so herself in a meeting here in Bern. She said she ‘felt called by God to make sure justice was served,’ and the petition to disorganize 113 was their ‘big stick’ to do whatever they wanted.” She asked for the land transfer to be denied.

Other Patrons

Jason Kramer — USD 115 school board member — put “other” on his card because he doesn’t feel like it should be “115 versus 113.” He said members of the Bern community came to them asking for help and “to me, that is our responsibility to be a representative for those people.” He said everyone present in the room was all “here for the same reason. It’s because we want what’s best for our kids. There’s no better place to raise your family than Nemaha County.” Wrapping up, he asked that the people of Bern be given a voice.

USD 113 Rebuttal/Closing Statement

Cooper gave the closing statement for USD 113, saying that the word “inequity” needs to be addressed.

“We need to first address the word that appeared on no fewer than four slides in the opening presentation and it was on their last slide that they left up for so very long and it talked about inequity,” Cooper said. “Equalization is not equity. They don’t mean the same thing, and the statutory and the Board of Education guidelines tell you to address the issue of equalization.

“We have addressed that and we have discussed that and I’m not going to beat that horse any longer right now. But we do need to address the idea of equity. Equalization means equal resources, to make equal opportunities for education for Kansas students. Equity means the resources available for the individual to achieve an equal outcome.

“If you look it up on Google, the first hit you are going to get is the idea of ‘if we all have a soap box to stand on, I get the best view, because I am 6 foot, 6 inches, and even though I will be able to see over the fence, if you give me a soapbox, I get a better view. But if you’re 4 foot, 3 inches and you get a soapbox, you don’t see over the fence.’

“So, that is where equity comes in. Equity means that the person who is 4 foot, 3 inches gets a box big enough to see over the fence. There’s no inequity. You have heard from everybody… We have two great school districts offering wonderful educations to these students. There is no inequity. The land transfer doesn’t equal better outcomes for anybody. The suggestion that Bern has paid its dues by giving $10 million to USD 113. That’s not apples and oranges. That’s apples and avocados… Rotten avocados. Why? USD 113 didn’t take $10 million in taxes from the Bern area and put it in a bank account to save it for a rainy day. They spent that money educating students.

“The attitude of USD 115 and they wear it proudly, good on them, ‘we will educate all who come.’ Oddly enough, USD 113’s attitude is the same, ‘we will take them all. All the out-of-district students they can take.’ So there is no difference there. But the enrollment of out-of-district students, we have heard it from a number of patrons from both sides, it’s a choice. It is a choice on where you want to enroll your students.

“People make that choice on a multitude of factors, employment, district, communities of faith, who their friends are, who their sports rivals were, any number of factors. Where do I shop? Where do I go most often? It can be a multiple of factors that do that. But in terms of making that choice and we’re talking here specifically about the closure of the Bern school, every student in the petition that attends 115 — the choices, the complaints that you are hearing about — were choices made by the parents at the time.

“Enrollment as an out-of-district student means you have made a choice that you will send your student to a place where you don’t pay taxes. You have made a choice to send your student where you cannot sit on or run for the school board. But as several patrons have addressed tonight, paying taxes to a given school district or being able to sit an run for the board of education for a school district, is not the sum total of your ability to be involved in your child’s education. You can be as involved in your child’s education and your child’s school as you want to be.

“If you decided to enroll your student in an out-of-district school, you made the decision you don’t want to be on the school board for where your kids want to go to school. We don’t need to rewind the clock to make up for that decision now. At the end of the day, the overarching consideration by KSDE guidelines is ‘does the petition change the needle, move the needle for students and their education?’ Universally, everyone agrees there will be no change in student outcomes and student education. That alone means the petition should be denied.”

Special Board Meeting

The Prairie Hills USD No. 113 Board of Education met in special session for the land transfer public hearing at 3 p.m. Friday, March 22, at the Bern Community Building. Present for the meeting were USD 113 Attorneys David Cooper and Chad Tenpenny, Superintendent Todd Evans, and board members Kathy Lippert, Leslie Scoby, Stan Keim, Phillip Buessing, Doug Renyer and Jim Scoby. Board member Todd Grimes was not present for the discussion.

 

Heather Stewart118 Posts

Heather Stewart is one of two co-editors for The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2015. Heather is a 2011 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in psychology. She lives in Sabetha with her husband.

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