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Wichita school officials say reopening Riddel Boys Ranch would mean 'significant' investment

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WICHITA, Kansas — Wichita school district leaders say they are concerned that Sedgwick County officials are considering reopening the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch, which would require a significant investment from the district.

The ranch, which provided educational and other social service programs for troubled juvenile boys, closed last summer after officials said the county could no longer afford to subsidize it without increased state funding. However, the Sedgwick County Commission last month instructed money be included in the 2016 spending requests to fund reopening the ranch or a similar program, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/1IkHGEM ).

The Wichita school district is required by law to provide educational programs, including diploma and GED classes, at the facility. It spent about $700,000 a year for programs at the ranch before it closed. In return, the district received double the state per-pupil aid for each student, but that covered only about half the costs, district spokeswoman Susan Arensman said.

When it closed, the ranch was serving about 40 boys considered at medium to high risk of committing additional crimes. It provided secured housing, education, counseling and vocational training. The district provided teacher and administrative salaries, supplies and technology, as well as paying mileage to teachers.

District leaders are especially concerned because new block grant state funding for education is based on current enrollment figures. The district is expecting about 230 more students next school year but no increase in per-pupil funding from the state.

Superintendent John Allison told board members last week that reopening the ranch would hurt the district's budget.

"That's a program where staff's been reassigned, equipment has been used elsewhere in the district after it closed," Allison said. "It would be an investment on our part to once again start that program."

School board member Lynn Rogers said recently he was concerned the county didn't contact the district about the ranch discussions.

County Commission chairman Richard Ranzau said it would be premature to confer with the district because no definite decisions have been made.

"If we move forward, then of course staff would contact their staff and work something out," Ranzau said.

The county operated the ranch on behalf of the state, which paid $126 per boy per day. The county said it was spending about $200 per boy per day and asked the Kansas Legislature for more aid. The ranch was closed in July 2014 after lawmakers denied the county's request.


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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