Editor’s note: This is the second in a series this week looking at what’s coming in 2017. Here’s a glance at what’s coming for the Manhattan- Ogden school district.
It may be a new year, but the Manhattan-Ogden school district will be dealing with many of the same K-12 education issues with which it has grappled in the past.
From funding to facilities, local lawmakers and school board members have an education- heavy year ahead of them. Here’s a look at some important issues they will face in 2017.
One of the biggest issues the state legislature will have to address this year is finding a new way to fund schools.
When lawmakers repealed the state’s education funding formula in 2015 for a block grant system, they gave themselves a two-year deadline to craft a new formula. But time is running out, and nothing new seems to be in the works just yet. The lawmakers convene next week in Topeka to begin the 2017 session.
Many education advocates, including the Manhattan- Ogden school board, have called for bringing back the old formula while making adjustments to account for issues the former formula did not address when it was built in the 1990s, such as funding for technology.
But the lawmakers may continue the block grant for another year as they craft a new solution. With the other issues the state’s legislature has to deal with — making cuts to a state budget with a $350-million hole and adjusting taxes to raise state revenue — a new funding formula could be put on the back burner.
State Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, who will serve as assistant majority leader for the GOP, recently told USD 383 it was a real possibility.
“I want to make the right decisions, and I don’t want to feel rushed to make a decision simply to conform with our calendar and not do our fair, honest and thorough analysis to find the right solution,” Phillips said.
Adding another wrench to the already complicated session, the Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule on the ‘adequacy’ portion of an education- funding lawsuit.
The court first ruled on the lawsuit, known as the Gannon decision, in March 2014 when it said the state’s education funding was inequitable. The Kansas constitution requires the state to fund education “equitably and adequately.”
With the equitable portion of the lawsuit finally settled last summer after two years, the court began deliberating adequacy. Some suspect the ruling could force the state to increase education funding by several million dollars, but may give the state a stretched time frame to appease the court’s ruling because of the state’s budget and revenue issues.
Back in Manhattan, the local school board has recently had to find a way to deal with crowding in elementary schools.
The next step for the current problem may be another bond issue to build new schools or expand existing ones.
To begin the process and plan for the future, the board hired BG Consultants, a local architecture firm, in September to help craft a longterm facilities plan. The board initially expected the plan to be finished in July 2017.
The board will receive its first update from BG Consultants during its Wednesday meeting.
Manhattan- Ogden residents last gave bond approval to the school board in 2008 for upgrades and construction of facilities across the district. With a new plan, the board could be sending another bond issue to the voters in a relatively short time span to account for the area’s growth.
The board also may be trying to be proactive for the possibility of additional growth in the area, as the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), which is now under construction, could bring in more businesses and more families.
Last but not least, the Manhattan High School Indian mascot issue will continue into 2017 after taking up several months of 2016. While the board did not discuss the matter until December, many constituents and MHS alumni argued over the issue in the Mercury’s opinion pages, during public comment sessions at board meetings, in lectures at K-State and finally at a five-and-a-half hour public forum.
Advocates hoping to change the mascot have argued the use of Native American imagery is offensive and considered cultural appropriation, while others said the mascot honors Native American culture.
When the board finally dealt with the issue in December, it unanimously chose to keep the mascot but created a committee to address four issues surrounding it: finding a new dedication to Frank Prentup, a former MHS coach and a man of American Indian descent whom the mascot is meant to honor; developing a curriculum focused on Native American history and culture; exploring an additional mascot distinct from (but not replacing) the Indian; and establishing what the true cost and timeline of changing the mascot would be if the Indian were retired.
The board is expected to announce who will serve on the committee — which will consist of students, administrators and advocates from both sides of the issue — on Jan. 18. The board is currently accepting nominations for the committee.
But how the committee is going to handle the issue is up in the air.
Last month, board member Dave Colburn, who came up with the idea for the committee, reiterated that it is meant to find consensus between the two groups on a contentious issue.
Board member Curt Herrman said no matter what the committee comes back with, only the board will make decisions on the issues surrounding the mascot.
“It’s still going to take a vote of seven,” he said. “Committees always come back and give advice to the board, and it’s still up to the board to make the final decision.”