WICHITA, Kansas – The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch closed last year. But that could be changing.
“We could make a decision on that in the next couple of weeks, maybe a month,” says Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau.
The cost to the county could be up to $1.5 million. And the county originally closed the ranch, for at-risk youth, because leaders deemed it too expensive to continue.
But if it opens once again, school officials say they will have to find their own money. It would cost the school at least $700,000.
“Obviously, if the county decides to go ahead and open that, we will be responsible for educating those students,” says USD 259 Board Member Barb Fuller. “It’s money that is certainly not in the budget.”
Fuller explains the school district was spending more than a million on the program at the ranch when it was open, and the state was funding roughly half that amount.
The Riddel Ranch offered a program to help youth that are “in the system” and considered moderate to high risk offenders.
The school system sent teachers out to the Lake Afton facility for education. School leaders explain the cost is above and beyond what it costs to educate kids that are not at-risk and in the Riddel Ranch program.
Finding the money now, could be a challenge.
“But now we have a block grant from the state,” says Fuller. “That block of money is kind of hitting us in the face. And they (school budget planners) have been planning on using those (block grant funding) numbers. So as we get additional kids, that were not considered in the block grant, it is going to be a measure of how are we going to do this? What program might we need to cut? Can we move students? Can we have class size increase? I mean there’s so many unknowns in that.”
KSN asked county commissioners if they would consider helping pay some of the extra costs associated with the ranch for school teaching.
“I don’t think we’d be open to doing that,” says Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau. “They’re (school district) mandated by the state to provide education to the boys ranch out there. And the state is responsible for funding. So that’s an issue I think they would have to address with the state and solve for themselves.”
Ranzau says opening the Riddel Boys Ranch is not a done deal, but he says they want to do the right thing for at-risk kids. He also says they could not re-open the ranch facility itself, but offer the same services at one of the county-owned buildings in Wichita.