WAMEGO – Richard Weixelman is a handyman, a farmer and he’s committed to education.
He’s so committed that he’s been a member of the USD 320 Wamego school board for 31 years – beginning in 1983.
“I’ve always been a believer in, and interested in education,” Weixelman said.
His five children and two of his grandchildren have gone through the Wamego school system, and he’s also been either president or vice president of the board 19 times in his career.
Currently the vice president, the 66-year-old Weixelman said his father had an influence on his own love for learning.
“My father had four days of high school,” he said.
Given that it was 1940 when his father briefly attended high school and that he came from family of 12, Weixelman said his dad had to work to help the family financially.
“They didn’t have money. Dad was always a hard worker so he went to work,” Weixelman said.
Despite not having a formal education, Weixelman’s father taught his son everything from plumbing and electrical work to construction and mechanics.
“Dad’s method of teaching was here’s how you do it, now do it. He didn’t spend a lot time showing you again and again,” Weixelman said.
That teaching method influenced Weixelman’s preference for learning by doing, and influenced his desire to help Wamego students with educational opportunities.
He was a 4-H leader before he was elected to the board.
“I’m only one of seven on the board, but it’s a good feeling knowing you have a little something to do with the opportunities for students,” he said.
The policy board is largely focused on the budget. Weixelman said that’s an area where he’s still learning after his three decades of service.
“I learned a lot. I had no idea about the school budget or anything when I started. The budget changes constantly and I would say even after 30 years, I’m no expert,” he said.
Weixelman said the board has passed three bonds in his school board career, raising money for facilities, improvements and additions, plus construction of a middle school in 1992.
Even though he said the Wamego community is highly supportive of education financially and otherwise, having to rise to the challenges of decreased government funding can be taxing, literally.
“All these costs keep going up, and you’ve got to try to pay for these expenses without raising taxes and it can be very difficult,” he said.
He said the state has reduced education by several hundred dollars per student over the years and it adds up. Not only that, but he said another challenge is a lack of federal government funding.
“The saddest part with the schools is the government controls,” he said. “The government tells you that you have to do something, and then you have to tell your community to raise taxes [because they’re] not going to support it financially.”
Along with governmental challenges are local ones.
Weixelman said that the latest issue confronting the district is an influx of students – because of area development that’s beginning to cause a crowding problem.
“When we added on to Central Elementary, we thought we were good for four or five years, and the third year we were in there, we had an influx of students and were completely packed,” he said.
The current enrollment sits at 1,541 for USD 320, but Weixelman said the last 100 students have come in during the last two years.
When he started in 1983, Wamego schools were filled with 1,104 students.
Even though Weixelman has to help solve problems as education constantly changes, he might be up for it again.
“As long as I feel like I have something to offer and still enjoy it, I’ll probably keep going,” he said.