The Prairie Hills USD 113 School Board has set a date of February 13th to vote on the controversial closure of Wetmore School, citing declining enrollment.
Genealogical records of the town indicate the first school in Wetmore opened in 1868. Longtime residents of the town recall efforts beginning some 50 years ago to close the school.
Wetmore resident Andrea Lagos says there are alternatives to closure the Board of Education is not considering:
“There are cost-saving options available to this district that the board has either dismissed or ignored. Conveniently, the cost-saving measures that have been ignored are all cost-saving measures within the Sabetha Middle and High School building….where, as we now know, also have the highest cost per FTE when broken out by physical building. The USD 113 Board has jumped to the cost-saving measures that have the most significant impact on education – closing an entire K-12 school. Not only has this strategy jumped the line, but the board is choosing a path that disproportionately impacts the highest at-risk population group in the district.”
Could there be another reason for the closing the school apart from the given reason of declining enrollment (now with about 140 students in K-12)?
At a recent board meeting President Leslie Scoby, responding to another board member’s question on alternatives to the closure, responded:
“At board meetings, we hear about things that are going to be needed. Well, one of them…I know…that is the Sabetha thing…but it’s a track at the high school”
The comment, close-captioned at the 2:41 point in the video, was jeered by opponents of the Wetmore closing.
The track renovation at Sabetha is estimated at over $955,000.
Opposition to the closure is so great in the community, and resident Andy Henry says a petition is circulating to vote on the dissolution of USD 113 altogether:
“With the announcement of the petition, many Sabetha patrons fear they may have to be attached to a neighboring school such as Hiawatha or Seneca. While this is far from reality, they fear another school having power over them could be detrimental to their community. The same fear Wetmore has had over the last 50 years.”
Jim Achten is a 1974 graduate of Wetmore:
“I try not to be a biased/prejudiced person. I will usually assume a neutral position and look at both sides of an equation to arrive at a logical conclusion. This is why the school board’s decision to close the Wetmore Attendance Center baffles me.
“Their determination appears to be totally irrational to me based upon the financial numbers that have been presented plus the academic success of the Wetmore student body.
“Don’t get me wrong. Being a school board member, much like being ion any public board, is many times a thankless task. You cannot please everyone and many of the decisions you are forced to make will be unpopular. However, my hope would have been that the board members, short of leaving the school open, would have at a minimum allowed the WAC at least the requested one year window in which to explore other options.
“All of the five who voted for closure reside in the northern part of the district and most of their children will or have attended the Sabetha schools. The only plausible explanation I can arrive at is the state aid that will continue to flow to the district for the next two years, even after closing the WAC, will allow them to proceed with capital improvements that would not have been possible otherwise.”
Wetmore Mayor Jason Claycamp echoes the charge that the board is favoring the Sabetha school at the expense of Wetmore:
“A school is the backbone of the community, and the whole idea of a Unified District is to work together to educate students and cover expenses together. Since Unification, this has not been the goal of the North end of the district. For example, nearly 90% of outlay funds have been spent in Sabetha over the last seven years, even though Wetmore and Axtell bring in around 30% of these funds. The current board has made no attempts to look at the district as a whole, and at no point has this discussion included anything about the actual education of students.”
The closure vote is scheduled for Monday night at 6:00 at Sabetha Middle School.
Editor’s Note: This story was amended to add a comment from Wetmore graduate Jim Achten.