WALTON, Kan. (KSNW) — The Newton school board voted 4-3 on Monday to close the Walton Rural Life Center, making it one of many rural schools across the state to close its doors recently.

The Kansas Department of Education reports over 500 Kansas schools have closed in the last 20 years for various reasons, such as declining enrollment or revenue.

One state board member, Dennis Hershberger, is concerned this is only the beginning.

This year, Hershberger has seen two schools announce the closure in district 7; one in Walton and one in Wilson. Another in the Haven district was on the verge of closing, but the local board heard the community’s concerns.

“That would have happened this month had not the local people here convinced the school board,” Hershberger said.

He says those decisions are controlled locally in small communities, which can make things complicated.

“There’s just not a lot of statutes that guide the decision making except that the local boards managing it,” Hershberger said.

Closing schools leads to challenges for the community.

“It just affects a lot of issues within a community that loses a school,” Hershberger said. “You have teachers that have to transfer or have to drive a distance to stay in a classroom in the district, or they have to move somewhere, somewhere else they can teach.”

Both Wilson and Walton gave decreasing enrollment as one of the reasons for closing.
Hershberger says this comes as he also sees an increase in homeschooling.

Jaime Harder leads Adventures in Home School Education, and she says since the pandemic, she has seen the number of parents homeschooling double.

“A lot of parents just are not happy with the policies the public schools are implementing and just the different things they are teaching in their curriculum,” Harder said. “They want to have more freedom in their education just to go back to the basics. “

KSN reached out to the Newton superintendent and all the school board members. Only one board member responded:

Through my research and meetings with staff and community members regarding the downward enrollment trend in USD 373, I have found our district is not running at the most efficient capacity for our students, families, and community.

The information provided to the Board of Education was detailed and informative, revealing an ongoing trend that is not different from other school districts in our area, state-wide, or nationally in terms of public education. With the information that is given, Board Members must remove emotion to benefit the entire district.

The difficult decision to support the closure of a building will add more dollars to the district without a tax burden to the community. This will allow our district to better serve the needs of students, families, and staff.

With these changes, it is my hope to provide pay increases for classified and certified staff and better recruit and retain students and employees.

Melissa Schreiber, USD 373 Vice President