By MIKE COURSON
Great Bend Post
A vote that was cast in April 2022 was finalized Monday evening at the Central Plains Elementary School in Holyrood. The USD 112 Board of Education voted 5-2 to close Wilson High School at the close of the 2022-23 school year. The vote followed a two-hour public forum held at Wilson High School on Jan. 4, and came nearly three hours into Monday's board meeting.
Prior to the final vote, Board Member Brad Schiermeyer of Wilson explained the body had three options: table the vote forever, table the vote while other options are discussed, or approve the resolution to close the high school. After a motion to temporarily table the vote failed, Schiermeyer and Roger Robinson, also of Wilson, were the lone two votes against the closure.
Schiermeyer said it was not viable to go with option one, but potentially losing students with option three was also not the best option.
"With that, I would like a motion to table to take the time to look at the numbers, to look at the different options, and make sure that, as a board, we're doing what is right for the district and right for our students," he said.
With that motion failed, Board President Tamara Dody reread the resolution stating that the board of education, with a majority vote, had the power to close any school in the district.
Prior to the vote, the board heard from six members of the public, mostly expressing concern over a perceived lack of information and transparency from the board. Michelle Brokes questioned numbers provided by Interim Superintendent Bill Lowry, and said approving the closure would be like signing the district's death warrant.
"Our best bet is to work together, north and south, to come up with a solution to this proposed financial problem," she said. "That doesn't require closing any of the schools."
Citizen Richard Rugan compared USD 112 to the USD 355 Ellinwood School District. Though they share similar numbers in students, USD 112 has 15 more teachers because of the additional buildings. Board Member Dalton Wirth said salaries account for most of the USD 112 budget expenditures.
Following an 18-minute executive session, the board itself began discussion on the resolution. "I know a lot of people feel this has been a last-minute thing, but I would like to remind everybody that in 2019, the Bushton Attendance Center was closed, and the board of education at that time, did give a grim warning that wasn't the end, and there would still be tough decisions that have to be made," Dody said.
Other talking points included how USD 112, which encompasses a large geographic region but features relatively few students, could not afford to run two independent junior/high schools. A loss of students from the district following the closure could create more problems, and Schiermeyer expressed concern about a survey that indicated just four current Wilson High students planned to transfer to Central Plains in Claflin next year.
"We struggle if we lose a few students, let alone 60, 70," he said. "And that's just high school. Does the elementary school follow? If you have a high school kid that goes to Sylvan, goes to Ellsworth, and you have an elementary student that's going to do the same thing when they get to junior high, are they staying so they can finish out elementary and then move, or are they moving with their older sibling? We don't know that number either. But we do that the threat is there, that the possibility is there. I don't feel like we, as a board, have looked at the consequences of that. And that is concerning."
Schiermeyer also addressed safety issues with more high school students making the 23-mile drive from Wilson to Claflin every day, and questioned both sides using the potential number of students who will transfer as leverage in the debate. He and a member of the public also questioned why the district would close Wilson over Central Plains, quoting a study that showed USD 112 would save $336,000 dollars by closing Wilson versus $815,000 by closing Central Plains High School.
Wirth said the closure was not ideal, but based on studies provided that showed the district has lost money in eight of the last 10 years, keeping both high schools open was not an option.
"I want this district to be around forever," he said. "I want my grandkids to come to this district, I was in this district. I personally want every child in this district to have the best education we can possibly give them, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart."
Immediately after the vote, several students and members of the public in attendance walked out of the meeting. With Monday's vote, Wilson High School will close at the end of the 2022-23 school year. The USD 112 district was created in 2011.