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Audit recommends school consolidation that would affect Marion County districts

Whether Marion County school officials and residents want it to happen or not, consolidation may be on the way.

A Legislative Post Audit Performance report released Monday suggests reorganization of Kansas school districts may be the answer to savings the state money.

The group presented two scenarios.

The first scenario, which would not affect Marion County, would be to consolidate districts that did not meet original consolidation requirements — less than 400 students in grades one through 12 or the district being less than 200 square miles with an assessed valuation of less than $2 million.

However, the second scenario would affect all schools in Marion County; it requires consolidation of districts with fewer than 1,600 students.

Cost savings with the first scenario could be $18 million with 50 schools closed and 230 teachers and administrators laid off.

The potential cost savings with the second option was $138 million, but that would include the closing of 304 schools and a reduction of 1,532 teachers and administrators.

The state’s share of the potential cost savings was $15 million and $129 million, respectively.

Under both scenarios, the audit indicated that districts would lose more money in state funding than they would save by reducing operating expenses.

Transportation expenses were also considered in the first option with nearly 900 more students in need of transportation and 7,000 in the second option. To reduce students’ time on buses, districts could consider adding more bus routes.

Some districts might need new or expanded buildings to accommodate the consolidation of high schools alone, costing districts an estimated $1 million per year with the first option and nearly $46 million a year with the second.

Financial impact on elementary and middle schools was not estimated in the audit.

Among questions that were not answered were whether smaller districts would have adequate representation on a new board, who would pay a district’s existing bond debt, whether savings would be offset by increased transportation and facility costs, whether students would go to the larger reorganized district or to another one, whether students’ performances would suffer, and the impact consolidation would have on mill levies.

Auditors would ask the Legislature to consider limiting or eliminating the provision allowing districts to enter into long-term inter-district contracts with another district to share entire grades.

Auditors also want to encourage voluntary consolidation by the districts.

Last modified Feb. 10, 2010

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