Vote Spares Rural Kansas School District

Residents of a rural central Kansas school district overwhelmingly voted to keep their district intact, defeating an attempt to dissolve the district in anger over a school closure.

Unofficial election results from the Aug. 1 primary show 587 people voted in favor of disorganization and 1,179 voters in Central Plains Unified School District 112 voted against the change.

“For Tuesday in August, in a heatwave, this was a huge turnout,” said Denise Schmidt, a Claflin resident, educator and member of the United USD 112 campaign.

Ellsworth County Clerk Shelly Vopat, who oversees the county’s elections, estimated turnout was about 60%. The county usually sees a turnout of 30% to 40% in a primary election, Vopat said.

Schmidt said the vote showed communities could still pull together and prioritize education.

“We are hopeful for great things to come,” Schmidt said. “This was a victory, not just for our students so they can have the best education, but our amazing, hardworking staff. And it was a victory for our communities that we could work together for positive change.”

The school district covers parts of five counties and communities that include Holyrood, Bushton, Claflin, Dorrance, Lorraine, Wilson, Beaver and Odin, and houses three schools.

Wilson-based supporters of the split began their campaign to divorce from the district after the school board voted to shut down Wilson High School in January because of budget concerns and declining student populations. Members of the community asked the board to grant an one-year extension to give the school time to find alternate solutions, or continue efforts to have other school districts accept the high school.

After the extension was denied, disorganization supporters began circulating a petition to disorganize the school district, garnering enough votes to put it on the primary ballot.

Disorganization advocate Michael Kratky called the shutdown part of a larger pattern of the board snubbing the Wilson community. He felt the district’s other high school, in Claflin, should have been closed instead, and that the Wilson school should have been given more time to search for alternatives.

Kratky didn’t immediately respond to Kansas Reflector inquiries following the vote, but in an Aug. 1 Facebook post he said the district needed to be dissolved.

“This was the only way of separation from an uncooperative BOE that was determined by self-interest,” Kratky said. “It has been a 10-month process of negotiations that led to this situation.”

Another proponent of disorganization, Wilson parent Kayla Cullens, said she was disappointed by the results of the election, but would refocus her efforts on getting the Wilson community better representation on the USD 112 school board. Two out of the seven board members currently represent Wilson.

“We’re going to reinvest our efforts into getting more equalization on the board,” Cullens said.

A “yes” vote on disorganization would have put the district in the hands of the Kansas State Board of Education, which would have divided the USD 112 territory into 10 neighboring school districts. The district’s schools would have either been absorbed into the surrounding districts or shut down.

Disorganization also could have caused tax increases for most of the former USD 112 residents and caused former district residents to lose any say in school district functions for a few months. State BOE officials estimated people from the former district wouldn’t be eligible to vote in district elections for about 120 days after reassignment, and would need to wait 18 months after reassignment before anyone from the former USD 112 could run for local school board.

Schmidt said the vote showed support for the current school district.

“USD 112 is a great place to be, and this vote proved that,” Schmidt said.

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Story by Rachel Mipro  via Kansas Reflector