Parents, Walton community saddened by decision to close town’s school

The Newton School Board voted Monday night to close the agricultural charter elementary school.
Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 6:17 PM CDT
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WALTON, Kan. (KWCH) - Monday night’s school board meeting in Newton came with a lot of emotion following the board’s narrow decision to begin the process toward closing Walton Rural Life Center, a charter school for kindergartners through fourth graders that offers a one-of-a-kind agriculture program.

The school was the first public elementary school in Kansas to add agriculture to its curriculum. That’s part of the appeal for parents of students.

Some had tears in their eyes as they left the meeting Monday night, discouraged by the 4-3 decision impacting families whose children go to school in Walton, about seven miles east of Newton.

“My child, his fellow classmates, and especially these teachers behind me are not just numbers,” one Walton Rural Life Center parent told the board during the meeting.

Carole Lea Dugan, a volunteer for Walton Rural Life Center and a member of the Walton Library Board, said after Monday night’s vote, she and many other community members feel betrayed.

“I don’t think that they have done their due diligence,” she said of Newton’s school board. “I don’t think that they understand that Walton is a community school. It is valuable for hands-on learning that they don’t get at other schools.”

Former Newton school board member and Walton business owner John Esau said the district has considered closing Walton Rural Life Center for decades.

“You know, it’s going to leave a hole in the community,” he said. “You know parents bring their kids, (the school) brings a lot of people into town every day. You know, it helps the convenience store, helps the restaurant. So yes, it’s going to hurt.”

Following Monday night’s vote, Dugan and Esau said some parents are looking to send their children to other districts.

“We’re losing enrollment, which is why this all started,” Esau said. “But why are we losing enrollment? Hesston, Goessel, Berean Academy, they’re bursting at the seams for kids leaving our district.”