March 4, 2024

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Progress made in Wetmore land transfers

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The ongoing controversy over land once a part of the now-closed Wetmore Academic Center appears near resolution after agreement was reached among two of the three parties in mediation.

Most of the 140 Wetmore students re-enrolled in neighboring districts USD 335 Jackson Heights, ISD 115 Nemaha Central, and USD 380 Vermillion after USD 113 Prairie Hills voted to close the school earlier this year. Jackson Heights added 110 to its student body at considerable expense, with the other schools, along with Sabetha, taking the remainder. But stalled negotiations with USD 113, which kept the financial aid due Wetmore this school year due to a quirk in the state funding formula for K-12 schools, necessitated mediation talks in Topeka.

The schools issued this joint news release:

Representatives of USD 113 (Prairie Hills) met with representatives of USD 115 (Nemaha Central), 335 (Jackson Heights) and 380 (Vermillion) on December 5 and 6 in Topeka. A mediator appointed by the Kansas State Board of Education facilitated the confidential discussions with the intent of establishing agreements regarding future school district boundaries. 

USD 113 and USD 380 reached an agreement in principle to transfer a portion of land from USD 113 to USD 380. The USD 113 and USD 380 boards of education unanimously approved the agreement at their regularly scheduled board meetings on December 11, 2023. 

Also on December 11, 2023, the USD 113 and USD 335 boards of education approved a transfer of land south of Nemaha County 80th Road and Brown County 140th Road from USD 113 to USD 335 (not including land subject to the agreement with USD 380). These votes were also unanimous. USD 335 and USD 380 will begin the process of drafting legal descriptions for the proposed land transfers. Both proposed land transfer agreements are subject to the approval of the Kansas State Board of Education. 

Deliberations between USD 113 and USD 115 are ongoing but are not resolved at this time

Superintendent Joel Bickford, photo courtesy of USD 380

Both superintendents who emerged with mediated agreements with USD 113 believe the process was fair to their districts:

Joel Bickford leads the Vermillion School District:

“We are very thankful that the mediation process was successful, and we were able to reach an agreement that was equitable to both parties.”

Jim Howard heads Jackson Heights:

“While our initial data suggested that a significant number of taxpayers preferred a boundary further north than the 80th Road, we acknowledge the complexity of such negotiations and the need for compromise. Our primary goal has always been to ensure the well-being and prosperity of our school community.

USD 335 has taken most of the former Wetmore students
Superintendent Jim Howard, photo courtesy of USD 335

“After thorough consideration, we believe that the overall offer, though not aligning precisely with our initial data, is fair for our district. We understand that the mediation process requires both parties to be flexible in order to achieve a compromise that serves the best interests of all involved.

“I appreciate the collaborative spirit demonstrated by all parties involved in reaching these agreements. As we move forward, we look forward to working together to draft legal descriptions for the proposed land transfers.”

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