Glen Suppes, superintendent of Smoky Valley School District, has been trying to reverse a change in busing rules he said is hurting his district.

Glen Suppes, superintendent of Smoky Valley School District, has been trying to reverse a change in busing rules he said is hurting his district.
The change came a few years ago when the Kansas Legislature altered a rule regarding out-of-district transportation for students. The original rule said districts could bus students from other districts as long as they lived at least 10 miles away from the school they are assigned to attend.
Under the new rule, that distance has been reduced to 2.5 miles. Districts do not receive transportation money from the state to bus out-of-district students to their schools.
“When that happened, it meant other districts could get closer to our buildings,” Suppes said. “We lost a lot of students to Little River.”
It’s an issue that Suppes said may cause enrollment to drop even more starting next school year, after the Marquette Elementary School closes.
Marquette students who stay in the district will attend schools in Lindsborg, which is just under 10 miles away. Little River and Windom are more than twice that distance away.
Under the 2.5-mile rule, other districts like Little River/Windom could run buses in Marquette, making it easier for parents to send their students to other districts.
Many parents indicated they intend to send their students to Little River during a hearing on the Marquette school closure.
“I’m all for freedom of choice, but it’s hurting us,” Suppes said.
However, Mary Treaster, interim superintendent of the Little River/Windom School District, said she’s not sure transportation rules are the biggest factor. She said she’s worked in districts that have benefited and been harmed by the change, and transportation is a matter of convenience, not a deciding factor.
“Parents have the option to pick a school that fits their child’s needs. I don’t think that’s changed,” Treaster said. “Let’s say your neighbor takes their kids to another district. If you think your kids will do better there, there’s no reason you can’t ride along.”
Treaster said she thinks a bigger factor is convenience for parents. In one district she worked in, she said parents took their kids outside the district because they worked in larger towns, and it was easier for them to take their children with them.
Suppes said while parents should choose the district they think is best, having too many students cross district lines makes it difficult to manage personnel and finances. He said though Smoky Valley has brought in some students from Southeast of Saline, the district has lost more students than it gained.
“You hire staff to cover the kids in your district, and then those students leave,” Suppes said. “It could be a good thing for parents, especially for kids who live closer to Little  River, but when it’s a mass exodus of people who leave because they’re mad, it makes it hard to budget and hire.”
He said the change originally passed because it was tacked on to a popular bill, and though many have said they want it changed back, the Legislature hasn’t done so.
Treaster said because she’s worked in districts that were helped and harmed by students leaving the district, she said she doesn’t have an opinion either way on whether the change stays.
“I’ve been in districts where it would go both ways, so my preference depends on the district,” Treaster said. “It’s much more complicated than it appears.”