Planned school merger dies due to lack of motion in Haviland

Hannah Brown
Kiowa County Signal
Haviland Grade School board of education members did not come to an agreement over whether USD 474 should combine districts with USD 422 and a planned merger has now been put on hold. Challengs and more discussion lie ahead for those interested in the subject.

A planned merger of two Kiowa County school districts failed to become reality due to lack of a motion from the Haviland Board of Education members last Monday.

The Haviland Grade School had a board meeting on February 8 to vote on the transfer of territory that had been outlined in a letter sent home to parents, a letter on Facebook, and discussed at board meetings. Haviland residents attended the meeting to express their concerns over the decision. After discussion, there was no motion made so it did not go through.

A few families in the community led this discussion, making flyers and going door to door to get people involved. One of these community members was Jeremie Frazier.

“I grew up here, I went to school in Haviland, that’s a special place, the Haviland community is a special community,” said Frazier. “I’ve always been very much adamant that we have a school in Haviland. Haviland needs a school.”

Frazier voiced several concerns over the transfer of territory that he and other residents felt were negatives. First, the thought of making this decision after one year of low enrollment was worrisome. Many townspeople were in fa- vor of a “wait and see” op- tion, meaning that they wanted to wait and see what enrollment did in the future. If enrollment can increase to the level it was before this school year, then some of the projected $187,000 that was lost with the decrease in enrollment may be avoided. Another sticking point for some residents was having one board making deci- sions for students from Haviland, Mullinville, and Greensburg was a concern.

Some townspeople felt students in Haviland would benefit more if people in their community were making decisions about students just in their district. This would allow the USD 422 Board to make decisions about students in their building and not split their resources between two buildings. Frazier said his opposition to the transfer of territory has nothing to do with the Kiowa County School District.

“I believe maintaining a positive relationship between KC and Haviland is critical, and keeping separate districts allows this healthy relationship to continue.”

Mark Clodfelter, superintendent at HGS, says that USD 474 will now face some challenges to continue to operate at a very high level.

“USD 474 will continue to weigh options that pro- duce the greatest opportu- nities for our students. If USD 474 continues to operate as an independent district, we will be forced to see dramatic cuts in the next two years,” said Clod- felter.

Clodfelter said this discussion was spurred due to finances, but there were some very clear educational opportunities that would have come out of the transfer of territory.

“Also, because of the timing, Kiowa County was in a place to help offer displaced workers, through the consolidation, employment that might have been lost,” said Clodfelter.

Another positive thing that was discussed during this process was a more complete preschool. HGS currently has two hours of preschool at the end of the school day combined with their kindergarten class.

For the past two years, HGS has not been able to offer vocal music, which would have been another issue addressed through the merger. There were discussions to align cur- riculum for the upcoming school years betwe te two elementary buildings to allow students to have a smoother transition to junior high. Another positive the board felt could come through the merger was a joining calendar, so all students throughout Kiowa County would have the same calendar. Clodfelter says this is not a comprehensive list, but these are some of the major opportunities that could have come through the transfer of territory.

The transfer of territory was chosen over other options primarily because of the timeline, according to Clodfelter.

“We were opting for the transfer of territory primarily because of the timeline. Transferring territory provided a path where we could continue to offer a wide variety of opportunities for our students,” said Clodfelter. “Also, the financial security and longevity of our grade school was a motivating factor.”

Haviland Grade School, USD 474 announced the plans on January 13 via Facebook that it would be pursuing a transfer of ter- ritory between USD 474 and USD 422, Kiowa County Schools.

“USD 474 has seen a tremendous downturn in attendance this year. We lost 17 students out of 88 as of September 20, 2020,” said Mark Clodfelter, current HGS Superintendent. “Next year our anticipated enrollment K-8 will be 66.”

The letter on Facebook outlined what this meant for both parties. Haviland currently houses students PreK-8th grade. The transfer of territory would have moved junior high students to the county-wide building in Greensburg.

Haviland would continue to operate as a PreK-5 fa- cility but all students would be under the umbrella of USD 422. Staci Derstein, current Kiowa County Schools Superin- tendent announced her retirement, leading to the decision that Mark Clodfelter would take over as superintendent of USD 422 after the transfer of territory was complete.

A week after the letter was posted there was a board meeting held in Thompson Gymnasium at Haviland Grade School to answer questions residents may have had about the process moving forward. 38 people attended including the board members. Questions were answered but no decisions were made at that time. On February 3 there was a joint meeting between the USD 474 and USD 422 Boards to con- tinue discussions about the transfer of territory.