Hutchinson school board votes to combine elementary schools, closing 1

Parents say they are concerned about how students will get to their new school once the district shutters Lincoln Elementary at the end of the school year.
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 9:31 PM CDT
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HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KWCH) - Next school year, the Hutchinson school district will be down one of its elementary schools. Monday night’s decision by the USD 308 Board of Education to close Lincoln Elementary and combine it with McCandless Elementary is the result of an ongoing teacher shortage and a drop in enrollment at Lincoln Elementary.

During Monday night’s special meeting, the public had a chance to weigh in. Many voiced opposition to the planned school merger, wanting to keep Lincoln Elementary School open. For Lincoln parents like Courtney Postier, the board’s 4-1 decision is weighing heavily.

“It’s the thought of, ‘do we send our kids or do we now homeschool?’” she said. “It’s a huge change when you’re going from 240 kids to over 400.”

On a statewide level, 12 News reached out to the Kansas State Department of Education regarding teacher shortages. The department reported that as of last fall, there were about 1,600 open teaching positions in Kansas. That’s about 400 more than in the fall of 2021. When the spring report comes out in July, the state doesn’t anticipate much of a change.

A news release from the district said, “The proposed solution would also reverse the Graber (Elementary School) boundary back to the 2022-2023 boundary.”

“We are building towards excellence, and we know this is not an easy decision, but I think we have worked hard to look at all of the options and choose the best recommendation,” said USD 308 Superintendent Dr. Dawn Johnson.

Following Monday night’s meeting 12 News spoke with parents who question how their children will commute to school next year with Lincoln’s closure.

“I know several families personally that don’t have a way to get their kids to school. We’ve heard from several parents who are terrified that their kids are going to be taken from them for truancy because they aren’t going to be able to get their kids there if bussing isn’t provided,” concerned parent Aimee Bookless said.

Johnson said she’s working with the district’s bus provider and administration on bus route possibilities. Lincoln and McCandless elementary schools are about two miles apart. Children who walked to and from Lincoln will have a much farther commute.

“It’s a 45-minute walk for an adult. How long is it going to take a kindergartner, and in different weather and crossing major streets here in town,” Bookless said. “It’s just not safe.”

Concerned neighbor Edward Howland said Lincoln’s closure will put a strain on parents, as well as the community.

It’s going to be hard on parents. Now, they’re going to have to drive all their kids to school. It’s going to be an extra cost on the community,” Howland said.

Johnson said the student population at McCandless next year will be about 430.

“For me personally, I have one child who doesn’t handle big groups very well and my eldest who is a social butterfly, she told me last night that she was terrified because of how many kids are going to be there,” Bookless said.

Johnson said by mid June, the district should know more about the bussing situation for students moving to McCandless from Lincoln. She said possibilities for the Lincoln Elementary School building include using it for community partnerships, head start classrooms and early-childhood programs.

The Hutchinson school board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for 6 p.m. next Monday, May 22 at the USD 308 Administrative Center, 1520 N. Plum.