March 4, 2024

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Jackson Heights School District leaving KASB, citing political differences

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Jackson Heights USD 335 is leaving the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) saying KASB no longer reflects the district’s values.

According to Superintendent Jim Howard, the deteriorating relationship with KASB finally disintegrated over issues surrounding the closing of the Wetmore Academic Center earlier this year. USD 113 in Sabetha voted to close the school, and nearby Jackson Heights agreed to enroll 110 of its students this school year, increasing its student body by nearly 25% to over 500. However, USD 113 kept the state funding intended for the Wetmore students due to a quirk in the school funding formula in Kansas. Kansas law allows a district to continue to receive state funding for the current year based on its enrollment for either of the previous two years, whichever is higher, despite declining enrollment or in Wetmore’s case, the closing of a school. Negotiations between the Sabetha and Jackson Heights districts reached an impasse, and the two districts are now in mediation over the financial issues and land transfers.

KASB is a non-profit providing advocacy and services to member schools. It is taxpayer-supported because school districts use state and local taxpayer money to pay KASB.  It supports funding districts for students who have left and applauded Governor Laura Kelly’s line-item veto this year of a reform that would have funded districts on enrollment figures for the current year or one year previously instead of the current two-year window.

An excerpt of the letter Superintendent Howard and the USD 335 Board of Education sent KASB Executive Director Brian Jordan:

Photo of Superintendent Howard courtesy of USD 335

“Over the years, we have observed a growing misalignment between our values, beliefs, and the direction KASB represents. Our vision for public schools and the educational landscape has evolved, leading us to believe that continued representation by KASB may not be in the best interest of USD 335. Additionally, we have realized that the membership fees we contribute need to be more commensurately reflect the value or benefits we receive from the association.

“With the upcoming legislative session on the horizon, we find it essential to explore alternative avenues that better reflect our goals and priorities for our school district. Therefore, we request information and guidance on the process and implications of terminating our membership with KASB.”

Howard told a Special House Committee on Education in October that the additional 110 former Wetmore students enrolling in Jackson Heights Schools this year will cost his district $600,000 to transport, feed, and educate. He confirmed to the Sentinel his district paid over $5,800 in dues to KASB and an additional $2,400 in legal expenses this year, adding, “We will not be officially out until the end of the school year, but do not want KASB representing us this legislative session.”

USD 335 Board President David Allen echoed Superintendent Howard’s contention that philosophical differences caused the split with KASB:

“My specific issue, as one of seven board members at JH, is that KASB is an advocacy group that can’t advocate for all of its dues-paying members and, therefore, those with the most dollars get the most advocacy. We are a conservative board, and right, wrong, or otherwise, we are choosing to explore new options.

“I have to say that KASB, and specifically Britton Hart, reached out immediately and wanted to make sure that we could keep open lines of communication, including offering specific services on an ala carte basis.”

We reached out to KASB for comment on Jackson Heights’ membership termination. We did not receive a response.

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