Districts seek mediation for land transfer

Last week’s announcement of a three-school district coalition including Jackson Heights USD 335 seeking a formal mediation process to settle a boundary dispute between the three districts and Prairie Hills USD 113 stems from the four districts involved “no longer reflect(ing) the enrollment trends within this region or within each of those district individually,” Jackson Heights Superintendent Jim Howard said.

Jackson Heights, Nemaha Central USD 115 and Vermillion USD 380 have teamed up to seek a transfer of land from Prairie Hills following that district’s decision earlier this year to close Wetmore Attendance Center, which had previously been part of USD 113, now that the majority of WAC students have chosen to attend school in one of the three affected districts.

The three districts met in June to establish a joint proposal for land transfer, which was submitted to Prairie Hills in July, “seeking to establish commonly agreed upon land boundaries that are more accurately reflective of the enrollment patterns,” Howard said, noting that last week’s announcement of a request for mediation proceedings reflects Prairie Hills’ apparent refusal to cooperate with the three districts’ request.

Furthermore, the three districts teamed up in an effort “to solve the resulting financial inequities that are impacting each individual district in similar ways” following the transfer of WAC students to those districts, Howard said.

Following the three districts’ announcement of plans to seek mediation through the Kansas Department of Education, Prairie Hills Superintendent Todd Evans issued a statement on Thursday calling the request for mediation “a legal maneuver to diminish local control” of USD 113 and saying that the districts “dismissed an opportunity to continue ongoing conversations and resolve northeast Kansas education at the local level.”

“I am deeply disappointed that three neighboring school districts rejected an opportunity to discuss differences, school district to school district and superintendent to superintendent, but have instead chosen to involve outsiders in a traditionally local matter — educating children,” Evans said.

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