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Patrons have a responsibility to speak their minds on school issue

POSTED: November 18, 2011 7:00 a.m.

Pick up a copy of any newspaper and several times a year you’ll find stories about the woes of rural Kansas.
Shrinking population? Check.
Fewer jobs? Check.
Declining number of young families? Check.
Now, look around Ellsworth. You will find none of these things for the most part. Unlike too many rural communities, our town is bustling with activity. Millions of dollars in new construction is taking place along the highways and, closer to downtown, the Smoky Hills Child Care Foundation is moving forward with its new building.
Ellsworth has the potential for growth and — to make the most of our situation — we must make sure we have the best medical services, schools and other amenities possible.
It was such a belief that led to a special meeting several weeks ago of the Ellsworth-Kanopolis-Geneseo School District. About 55 patrons attended the more than hour-long session in the Performing Arts Center at Ellsworth High School to offer their opinions on the future of the district’s three schools.
Another special school board meeting is planned at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, again at the Performing Arts Center.
The problem is this — and it’s a great problem to have — the smaller classes of recent years are being replaced by larger classes, thus creating more demand for resources the district put on hold to close gaps created by reduced state funding.
The options: remodel Kanopolis Middle School so seventh and eighth graders can return or close Kanopolis Middle School and add classrooms at Ellsworth so the high school can accommodate grades 6-12 and the elementary school can house grades K-5.
Of course, there’s another option, one that has not received the public scrutiny of the other two. Ellsworth could reach out to the Central Plains School District — Wilson in particular — and administrators and board members could talk about the possibility of finding a joint solution to the future of education in this region. Just a thought, but certainly one worth considering, especially given the uncertainty of state budgets.  
Many of the patrons who attended October’s special meeting at Ellsworth were there to convince the school board to return seventh- and eighth-grade students to Kanopolis. That’s understandable. No town — no matter how big or how small — wants to lose a school. But once the emotion passes, the bottom line is what’s best for the future of education in Ellsworth and Ellsworth County. The other responsibility of school board members is to make the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
The numbers are still out on the best way to meet those two objectives.
The district has student population projections, but no solid cost estimates. Much more information and discussion are needed before decisions are made.
Superintendent Eric Reid has promised more public meetings, which means there will be other opportunities for patrons to collect information and  voice their opinions. District patron David Hand offered a thoughtful analysis of the situation in the Nov. 3 edition of the I-R. Others have taken their comments directly to Reid, who said most of what he hears confirms a desire on the part of patrons to put the education of students at the top of the priority list. That is all to the good.
The worst thing any of us can do is sit on the sidelines and remain silent and then complain when we don’t agree with the outcome.

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