Sunday, October 26, 2008

Full Circle

This blog started back in February because it seemed odd that Lynn Rogers and the USD 259 Board didn't seem to have any kind of idea how to proceed in the event the (then) $350 million bond issue failed.

Nine months later, we have seen a changed voting date at the request of bond supporters, a lack of business community support, polls indicating overwhelming public opposition, and an organized opposition to the bond.

What have Rogers and the Board learned?


So what happens if the bond issue fails? Board members haven't talked about that "because it's not the best option," Rogers said in today's Wichita Eagle.

Seriously? The School Board of the largest district in the state refuses to talk about options "because it's not the best option." Instead of facing the reality that the bond issue is likely to fail, the alleged leaders responsible for the education of our children simply bury their collective heads in the sand?

The best Rogers could come up with was some half-hearted talk about 'stop-gap' measures. Architect-in-Chief Martin Libhart said, school officials would rank projects in the bond plan and start trying to pay for the "most critical needs" out of the district's capital outlay fund.

Well there's a thought...identify the most important needs and start working on them.

Libhart whines that the district only has $24 million a year for capital outlay, which would not cover two new $37 million highschools, and suggests that maintenance would suffer.

Here's a few questions for the BOE: How much could go into the capital outlay if fewer tax dollares were spent on $100k consultants, a top heavy personnel structure, and mailings in support of the bond? What kind of facilities could Wichita kids enjoy if the USD 259 board would follow the lead of surrounding districts and work with other organizations in the community, like WSU, YMCA and City Parks Dept?

Apparently, none of those are 'the best option' for our current crop of board members.

Asking the taxpayers to pay for everything on the wish list doesn't require leadership. Making decisions and finding workable solutions that benefit students, the community and taxpayers takes leadership. Facing reality and planning for the future requires leadership.

Now is the time for some for some accountability. Next spring there will be an opportunity to find some leadership.

Monday, September 29, 2008

In Review

I received an email a few days ago requesting a short summary of the the arguments against the bond issue before early voting starts. For a quick 30 second summary, take a look at the Wichitans for Effective Education ad here.

There are four main reasons to vote against the bond:

1) The bond is too big and bloated.

One of the many claimed purposes for the bond is to reduce overcrowding. The enrollment at USD 259 has been relatively flat for the past 20 years. Existing grade schools and elementary schools are not being used at full capacity, while an additional new high school could easily be constructed using existing funds.

The tax increases from bond passage would result in Wichita property taxes for education being higher than both Maize and Andover. For a district trying to stem the flood of students leaving the district for Maize and Andover schools, this is a recipe for disaster.

2) The bond plan is based on the wrong priorities.

The schools that are performing worst academically, the ones failing state achievement standards, are receiving less than 5% of the bond funds. Most of the funds that are going to those schools are earmarked for athletic facilities.

Similarly, the assigned attendance area (AAA), the area of assigned busing, is also being short changed. Less than 5.8% of the bond funds are destined for the schools in the AAA neighborhoods.

3) Passage of this bond will be positive reinforcement of the failures of the USD 259 leadership, further setting back real accountability.

Not only did USD 259 fail to protect our children by adding FEMA shelters during the last round of construction, the overall performance of the educational mission of this district has been substandard. Nearly 25% of students in USD 259 fail to graduate.

The district insists on playing games with district boundaries to separate economically disparate neighborhoods rather than putting kids first and easing localized overcrowding at some schools.

Nearly $7.5 million of the current bond proposal will be spent on facilities that are less than five years old. Not only is this costing tax payers, but it points to a startling lack of foresight by district leadership.

4) The behavior of the School Board and others connected with this bond raise questions about the veracity of the BOE and motives of the bond supporters.

Any hope that the Board of Education might be interested in listening carefully to community concerns when out the window when they changed the date for the bond vote (and added $10million to cover 'inflation' because of the delay) because it looked like their side was losing.

The board then turned over authority to make decisions of the shape and form of the bond to a secretive group of bond supporters, while stonewalling bond opponents seeking simple information, such as the number of classrooms in the district.

A quick look behind the curtain reveals that the money behind the vote yes campaign is really just the usual group of architects and contractors, many of whom don't even live in the district. In fact, the spokesperson for the group doesn't live in the Wichita district.

Happy voting!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Lens of Money

There was an interesting comment over at Wichita Liberty from Joe Williams suggesting disbelief at the idea that the current $370 million bond issue is part of a grand plan to generate profits for local businesses.

Joe is correct, that "Any contractor doing anything for a government entity, stands to make money and many often bid for those lucrative contracts."

However, most business try to generate demand for their products. Do you really "deserve a break today", or is McDonalds merely doing their level best to make you believe that you need to stop for a burger and fries? If you don't need another credit card, why do all those pre-approved offers arrive in the mail?

We've discussed who is providing the money for the bond issue push.

The commenter validly points out that the bond issue should be considered on it's merits. Here at 259Truth, we'll look at the bond issue from a perspective that does not include the possibility of making millions of dollars based on the outcome of the vote.

If others, such as Mark McCormick, want to accept the statements of 'community leaders' without consideration of a profit motive, that is their own business.

In the meantime, perhaps Lynn Rogers could make some minimal effort to get his facts straight (Lord knows Mark McCormick is too lazy to actually check a fact). Rogers claims that Isley elementary has a capacity of 300....USD 259 says the capacity is 480.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Curious Case of College Hill

Several months ago we discussed the declining attendance, yet startling expenditures for College Hill Elementary. At last count, College Hill had an enrollment of 422 students in a school with a capacity of 600, or about 70%. The 2008 bond plan would spend $600,000 for upgrades. That seems silly enough, considering the recent renovations at College Hill.

Lets compare the plans for College Hill to Washington Elementary. Washington is currently at 93% capacity with 557 students in a school designed for 600. How much of the $370 million will spent to expand classrooms at Washington?


What's worse is that students in certain neighborhoods are being forced to travel farther to attend Washington, a school that is nearly full, instead of traveling a shorter distance to attend College Hill.

Take a moment to zoom in on the map and it's startlingly clear. A student living near 1st and Grove must travel farther, cross I-135 and adjacent intersections, to get to Washington, when it would be a shorter trip to go to College Hill. In fact, the trip for the student at 2nd and Fountain to College Hill Elementary is roughly twice the distance as the student at 1st and Grove.

The district claims that adjusting school boundaries is not feasible to solve overcrowding. It appears the BOE's commitment to smaller class sizes only extends to certain schools and kids that live in certain neighborhoods....and heaven forbid that the kids from different neighborhoods would attend the same grade school.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Snouts in the Trough for the Kids

The Wichita Eagle ran an editorial today decrying the lack of mandatory campaign finance disclosure in bond votes. Even without mandatory disclosure, a little bit of digging will go a long way.

Last week we took a look at George Fahnestock's involvement in the pro-bond group. Let's take a look at the other sponsors of last week's "Vote Yes for Kids" bond kickoff party:

Anne & Bob Simpson - Bob Simpson is the owner of Simpson Construction. While the Simpsons don't live in USD 259 and won't be paying a dime of the increased property taxes, Simpson Construction did work on the last bond and is likely to do very well on the 2008 proposal.

"(School work has) been one of the staples in our family for 50 years," says president Bob Simpson.

Foley Rental - The interest of a heavy construction equipment company in a $370 million bond issue seems self evident....and self serving. Foley Rental president Ann Konecny lives in the Andover school district..

Bill Livingston and Gossen Livingston Architecture - Bill Livingston is yet another bond supporter who doesn't live in the Wichita School District, but "Gossen Livingston Associates Inc. is one of the larger architectural firms engaged in numerous school bond projects."

Michael and Terri Monteferrante - They do live in the district and will be paying increased property taxes. Michael Monteferrante is CEO of Occidental Management, a company involved with sales and acquisitions of real estate. It will be interesting to see who handles the real estate acquisition for new construction related to the bond.

Randy Thon - Works is employed by Cessna and lives in USD 259 boundaries. Perhaps Randy is the mystery business person who recommended the last minute addition of technical aviation training to the bond proposal.

Kenton Cox - Like a relative who suggests dinner at Chester's Chophouse knowing you will pick up the bill, Mr. Cox does not live within the Wichita School District and won't pay for the bond proposal that will likely bring hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, to architecture firm Schaefer, Johnson, Cox & Frey.

Keith Stevens - Treasurer of CARE and Senior Vice President at Southwest National Bank. His previous community activities include service on the Wichita Park Board, Metropolitan Transit Authority, and Wichita Symphony...and $250 donor to Obama for America. Stevens does live in USD 259.

Bill Pickert - Partner in Charge of the BKD Wichita office. BKD is one of the nations largest CPA firms. Mr. Pickert's interest in this bond issue is unclear since he does not live in the Wichita district. Bill could just be a good citizen, he might have had his arm twisted by other business owners, or he might think that someone will need to keep track of the $370 million floating around.

Joe Johnson - Partner of Schaefer, Johnson, Cox & Frey, consistent winners of no-bid contracts from the Wichita School District. There are enough 'Joe Johnsons' that it is a little difficult to determine where this particular one lives.

Conco Construction - Another general contracting company, like Simpson Construction, that has done work related to the last bond and would certainly be looking for future work on the next bond.

The Eagle is concerned that voters won't be able to figure out who is behind the various bond groups. It really isn't hard to figure out at all: we have two architecture companies, two construction companies, a banker, a CPA firm, a heavy construction equipment company all working 'for the kids'.

Wichita voters should be concerned with the volume of support for the bond coming directly from those who have a financial interest in its passage. That a majority of those sponsors stand to make six and seven figures from a bond when they won't have to pay the accompanying taxes because they don't even live in the district makes their motives even more suspect.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fahnestock's Motivation?

.Tuesday was the official kickoff (numer 3 for those counting) of the "Yes for Kids" campaign! The bond supporters want to raise $400,000 to 'educate' the public, and the whole community is organizing "for Kids".

George Fahnestock is now on board as the official spokesperson for the campaign. Since Fahnestock has a history of supporting every project that comes down the pike, it's certainly not surprising to see his name associated with this bond proposal.

So what is his motivation?

It does seem strange that someone who doesn't live in the Wichita Public School district, would be the spokesperson for the USD 259 bond. Sure, George might know what's best for us, but he isn't going to be paying the taxes, nor will members of his family have to deal with the BOE's wrong headed priorities.

To allay fears that he has a financial interest, Fahnestock said that his company didn't do any of the air conditioning work from the 2000 bond issue.

The mystery is which company he meant. Usually George Fahnestock's name is associated with Fahnestock Heating & Air Inc, but he is also a 25% owner of Central Air Conditioning Company Inc. Fahnestock Heating & Air Inc is primarily in the business of residential heating and cooling. Central Air Conditioning works on a much larger scale and installs industrial HVAC systems.

Fahnestock worked a deal to purchase Central Air Conditioning in 2001, as the Wichita Business Journal reported:

The new owners say their strategy is to use their relationships in the local business community to add to Central Air's business.

"We're not a silent ownership group," Fahnestock says. "We're going to be active in providing leads and expertise."

Apparently some of that business is coming from the Wichita Schools. Central Air Conditioning Co appears on page 7 of the USD 259 approved bidders list. It seems unlikely that they would jump through the hoops to get on the approved bidders list for the purpose of NOT getting any jobs on district projects.

With the various levels of project managers, contractors and sub-contractors involved with the building projects from the 2000 bond, and district leadership bent on stonewalling, it will most likely take an open records request to determine if Mr. Fahnestock's 'other' company did any of the work.

Considering what's at stake, USD 259 should clarify George Fahnestock's involvement in past projects. To avoid an obvious conflict, Mr. Fahnestock would do well to remove all his companies from the approved bidders list and pledge not to undertake any of the HVAC work if the bond passes.

Until that happens, Wichita voters will be wondering what they are saying 'yes' to, kids or 'yes' to something else.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

About FEMA Shelters

.Mark McCormick's "if-you-can't-beat-'em-ridicule-'em" column in today's Eagle recalls something that was a very important issue in days of yore before the aviation magnet.

The Marketing and Communications Department at USD 259 spent a great deal of energy portraying the Bond plan as being primarily for building FEMA shelters at USD 259 schools. Obviously, everyone wants Wichita children to have a safe shelter during severe weather. So what exactly is a "FEMA Shelter" and how important are they?

In 2000 the first edition of FEMA publication 361 "Design and Construction Guidance for Community Shelters" was published. This document presents important information about the design and construction of community shelters that will provide protection during tornado and hurricane events.

Two years later, in 2002, FEMA produced a study on Kansas Schools and the Wichita School District specifically: "Protecting School Children from Tornadoes: State of Kansas School Shelter Initiative" This report was very complimentary of Wichita Schools, stating that the district had taken "decisive action to protect the children in its schools" and that USD 259 "led by example" spurring shelter construction in other areas of the state.

Julie Hedrick, USD 259 supervisor of architectural services is quoted on the inside cover: "How wonderful it is for students, staff, and parents to have a place to go while at school so that they will feel safe and secure during tornado activity."

Unfortunately, after basking in the initial glowing reports, the school district leadership completely failed the children of Wichita. Going page by page through the USD 259 website reveals that there are 91 schools in the district, 46 have had significant construction since the School Shelter report was published without including a FEMA shelter as part of the construction.

Since 2002 over half of all Wichita schools have undergone major renovation or additional construction but still do not have any shelter that meets the guidelines set out in FEMA publication 361.

The District's misplaced priorities and decision not to include FEMA shelters as part of new school construction placed our children at risk.

Their mismanagement has resulted in costing more in the process. The 2002 FEMA report estimated that building an addition on a school would cost only $40 per square foot more than normal $115/sqft if built to FEMA 361 standards. As Martin Libhart can tell you, construction costs go up over time.

FEMA shelters should have been included in all construction in the last six years. That did not happen, and no one is being held accountable.

While McCormick continues to engage in his childish tantrums on the pages of the Eagle instead of digging for facts, Wichita voters are left to figure out on their own just how important FEMA shelters really are? They are, after all, for the children..... just not until there is a need to justify a new bond.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

.The $10 million recently added to the bond proposal for an aviation technology magnet school is less than 3% of the total price tag for the bond, but it has received the most attention.

Obviously, the additional dollars for a technical education school is little more than a desperate attempt at pork barrel spending to purchase bond support from the aircraft industry. Architect-in-Chief Martin Libhart got it right in calling it an "earmark".

If all this seems kind of familiar, it is. The District pulled this same kind of bait-and-switch routine on the 2000 bond issue.

The 2000 bond issue plan included several million dollars for the Wichita Area Technical College, which among other things, had courses of study in aviation technology. As the Wichita Eagle pointed out, "Voters approved money in 2000 for technical education programs at the Wichita Area Technical College, which was under the board's supervision at the time." The Eagle story doesn't explain what happened to the money.

As part of that bond plan, a $2 million facility was to be built for applied engineering and technology programs. In 2004 the school district separated from WATC. Although the bond was passed in 2000, work on the facility had still not started four years later. At that time, USD 259 stepped out of the realm of aviation technology training.

The $2 million promised for technical training in 2000 disappeared into thin air.

Since that time, the Sedgwick County Technical Education and Training Authority has been created. Sedgwick County has put $54 million towards the National Center for Aviation Training at Jabara with substantial support from aviation and electronics companies.

Now that the BOE has put the bond on the ballot and committed to a $10 million aviation technology magnet school, Architect-in-Chief Libhart wishes to hold a 'summit' with leaders in aviation. (It's supposed to go "horse" then "cart")

Instead of holding a 'summit', Martin Libhart should prepare one of his dandy presentations explaining how $2 million spent in 2001 for a technical education facility, as promised to voters, would have been a better value for taxpayers and given hundreds of students the opportunity for training and good jobs.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bond Highlights BOE's Misplaced Priorities

.The latest USD259 corporate welfare bond proposal is now at $370 million. While it is a slap in the face of Wichita voters facing higher food and fuel costs, it also shows the commitment of the board to tax and build. So where does education end up in the mix? At the bottom of the stack.

Today the Kansas Department of Education released the list of schools that have failed to meet achievement standards. There are 12 schools in Wichita. Most of us would assume that the children attending these schools would be the highest priority. Here's how the bond dollars are being distributed to the schools:

Clark Elementary, reading --- $690,000 (last construction-2004)

Cloud Elementary, reading and mathematics --- $1,200,000 (2006-still has 3 portables)

Curtis Middle School, reading and mathematics ---$1,250,000 (2005)

Enterprise Elementary, reading ---$1,500,000 (school built in 2003)

Hamilton Middle School, reading and mathematics ---$1,260,000 (2004)

Harry Street Elementary, reading ---$1,500,000 (2002)

Irving Elementary, reading ---$2,850,000 (2002)

Jardine Technology Magnet Middle School, reading and mathematics---$500,000 (2005)

Marshall Middle School, reading and mathematics ---$900,000 (2005)

Mead Middle School, reading and mathematics ---$1,250,000 (2003)

Pleasant Valley Middle School, reading and mathematics ---$1,380,000 (2005)

Truesdell Middle School, reading and mathematics ---$2,650,000 (2005)

Total: $16,930,000

Only 4.8% of the original $350 million proposal will be going to failing schools

Also included is the date of last construction. All schools have had additions or renovations within the last six years. New construction has done nothing to improve education. The small percentage of bond money earmarked for these schools is primarily for tracks, gyms and auditoriums, not improved classrooms.

Sooner or later, the USD259 Board will need to get their priorities in line with the needs of the students in the district, and realize that new construction does not equate to students who can read, write, and succeed. For the sake of Wichita kids, I hope it's sooner.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Place Your Bets!

. Tonight is the big night! After deciding that neither extra construction costs nor democratic process would outweigh the benefits of providing CARE and SJCF an overtime period to convince the community that the bond plan is a good idea, it comes down to this evening's BOE meeting.

On July 28th CARE provided the results of their study to the Board. Along the way, some mysterious business person suggested the creation of an aviation magnet school, and an as yet unknown group paid for a survey.

Tonight, the board will carefully weigh the 'pros' and 'cons' of the bond plan. As elected officials, we can trust the School Board to use their judgement and carefully deliberate on the proposal before deciding if, and when they will place the bond proposal on the November ballot.

Before placing any wagers on the outcome of tonight's meeting, whether to board decides to vote tonight, or the results of their decision, it would be wise to look at the USD 259 website statement regarding the CARE proposal:

The Board of Education was supportive of the changes.

“I think this is a great plan and I think the public will support the changes,” said Board of Education Vice President Barb Fuller.

“It’s important that we do this now,” said Board of Education President Lynn Rogers. “If we delay this any longer, construction costs will significantly increase.”

The Board will discuss CARE’s recommendations and vote on a new bond issue resolution during its August 11 meeting.

The 'fix', as they say, is in.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Can You Smell That Smell?

. "Debate" de·bate

1. To consider something; deliberate.
2. To engage in argument by discussing opposing points.
3. To engage in a formal discussion or argument.

Mark McCormick titled his latest attack-column with an interesting proposition, that "Naysayers shouldn't drive the bond debate". Were Mr. McCormick to be forthright, the column would have been titled "Anti-bond people should just shut-up because I don't like them".

Not only does Mr. McCormick's column reek with the strong odor of desperation of someone unable to defend his position on the merits, it is written in a manner remincient of a seven year old who has just learned he will not be getting a new bike for his birthday.

"That's not fair," McCormick eloquently explains before he starts the name calling:

-enthusiastic doubt
-forces pulling us backward
-standard bearers of cynicism
-opponents of public education
-offer no viable alternatives
-only contribution is to say 'no'
-mean the district--and its students--no good

Mr. McCormick's ability to look into the hearts of men and women in this community and devine their motivations is nearly as impressive as his ability to turn a string of ad hominem attacks into a 541 word column for which he receives a paycheck.

McCormick does pose one interesting question "Who's advocating for kids?" Here is the simple dicotomy Mr. McCormick creates:

The district leadership honestly advocating for kids because they are working for free, versus the evil anti-progress child haters who are only interesting in frightening the voting public.

As usual, McCormick lets concepts like "competence", "results" and "accountability" slide. In McCormick's happy world, it only matters that CARE, the 259 Board and Schaefer, Johnson, Cox & Frey care about kids.

Mr. McCormick is less concerned about the 25% of USD259 students that don't graduate, than he is with "moving forward". McCormick is unconcerned by the paltry bond amounts set aside for the AAA schools, but worried about "opportunities".

The only thing more pathetic than Mr. McCormick's unrepentant nastiness, is the number of USD259 students who can't read his column....too bad he is more concerned about creating the perception of "progress" than actually preparing kids for life.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

CARE, Recommending Less for More


Ahhh...those glorious days of last spring. When winter finally gave way to the green grass and flowers. Children started to play outdoors and the first robins arrived. The school district first claimed that delaying the bond vote to November would increase the cost of building a new high school by a mere $360,000.

Now, as we enter the heat of mid-summer, CARE has unveiled an all new and improved bond recommendation that is nearly identical to the old proposal. The CARE group recommends fiddling around with less than 8% of the total bond amount. However, the total recommended bond amount of $350 million remains the same.

Two questions immediately spring to mind on seeing this new proposal:

1) Who was it, among the 40 or so people who showed up at one of the CARE community meetins, that stood up and said, "We need to cut back on the athletic facilities and just plan to pay an extra $10 million for everything else."? As CARE was seeking community input with the super secret poll that forms the basis for recommendations to the BOE, did they ask the question "Would you like to pay more for less?" If not, where did the $10 million price hike come from?

2)How did CARE arrive at the $10 million figure for inflation? In the spring, interim superintendent Martin Libbert claimed that a delay until November would increase the cost for one high school by $360,000. If the district proposal were to build 27 brand new high schools a bump of $10 million might be justified.

In just three months, the cost of the plan have increased almost 3%. Even the most pessimistic economists are not claiming that inflation is 12% per year. But more importantly, what can taxpayers and parents expect in the out years? Will the FEMA shelters be completed on all the schools as the costs goes up?

The stated purpose of moving the election date was for the CARE group to educate the public about the bond issue, not to recalculate the costs of the bond. It's highly unlikely that the citizens of Wichita are clamoring to pay more for less. But that seems to be what CARE is proposing.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bond Poll Results


The public is still waiting with baited breath for the release of the CARE public opinion poll on the $350 million bond issue conducted last month. True, the as yet unknown persons who funded the poll aren't required to share the results with the rest of the world. It does seem odd that CARE, or whoever, wouldn't be sharing the overwhelmingly positive poll results with the Eagle and public at large.

So, in lieu of talking about the CARE polling data, we are left with the results of a KWCH/SurveyUSA poll conducted on July 15th.

The first question, how much of an impact will gas prices and the economy have on the respondent's bond vote, sets the tone for the poll. 68% of respondents noted that it would impact their vote. It might be going out on a limb, albeit a very sturdy one, to assume that the slowing economy will make voters less likely to vote for higher taxes.

The second question isn't so black and white: "Should the vote be delayed until the economy improves?" The response was clearly that the vote should be delayed, 49% to 44%. However, this shouldn't be used as an indicator of overall support for the bond itself. Some bond supporters can clearly see that $350 million is a tough sell in a slowing economy and want a delay. Similarly, bond opponents may not want any further delays.

The third question gets to the heart of the matter: "Should the bond issue be scaled down in order to get it passed?". Again, 49% of respondents replied in the affirmative, while only 41% didn't believe the proposal should be scaled back. Both conservatives and liberals overwhelmingly (53% and 49% respectively) saw the need to scale the proposal back, although one would assume for different reasons.

The results are surprising, if the pro-bond groups are to be believed. The USD 259 website is chock full of claims that the entire community had input and is clamoring for a $350 million bond issue. CARE has had an additional 3 months to educate the public about the virtues of the bond plan.

What remains to be seen is if CARE/SJCF will propose that the school board proceed with the original bloated bond plan, submit a new proposal that nibbles around the edges, completely retools the proposal to address the real issues in the district, or suggests shelving the idea all together. Considering the money and egos involved, I'm guessing they won't concern themselves with something as insignificant as polling data.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's good to be Kevass Harding

The USD 259 School Board has for the past six months been bleating about the necessity to generate an additional $350 million through a special bond issue. One of the more outspoken members of the board has been Kevass Harding. But how deep does his support for the bond issue really go? had an interesting article on the good Reverend and his business plan to take money away from the school district and sink it into the Ken-Mar shopping center which he has purchased. How is he going to do it? Why a TIF district, of course. Where is that money going to go? Let's find out...

A Tax Increment Finance district is a special taxing district in which money, from tax exempt municipal bond sales, are used to invest in property improvements. As the property values increase, the additional tax revenue goes to pay back the bonds. Recently, in Wichita and elsewhere, the TIFs have been used not just to pay for better roads, street lights and parking garages, but for improvements to private property for the benefit of the property owner.

Allen Bell, City of Wichita development guru, said the TIF money at KenMar would be used to pay for land acquisition, demolition of a small store near 13th and Oliver, landscaping, and utility improvements.

In this case, Reverend/developer Kevass Harding is going to take money from the sale of bonds to make improvements on piece of property. He will receive the benefit of those improvements in the form of ownership of property that has a much greater value. Repayment of the bonds will be spread among property owners in the entire district, not just the owner receiving the proceeds from the bond sales.

The upfront money for the improvements will be repaid by the higher tax revenues generated by the business and homeowners in the surrounding TIF district. During the 15 year bond payback period, USD 259 will not see any of the increased revenue. Because of this, both the school district and Sedgwick County have the right to refuse the creation of the TIF district.

Several months ago, Kevass Harding indicated that he would spend as much as $8 million on the property over time. I don't know Mr. Harding's personal financial information, but according to his latest Statement of Substantial Interest Form filed on July 8th of 2008, he now owns a 30% interest in H.H. Holdings LLC. This company was formed in November of last year, and in June purchased the Ken-Mar Shopping Center for more than $2.2 million.

Kevass Harding's partners in this deal, Pat Ayars from Key Construction and Nick Esterline of Landmark Commercial, are both very experienced in real estate development. What remains unclear is exactly what Harding brings to the table. Does the pastor of Dellrose Methodist Church have the assets to buy a 30% stake in a multi-million dollar real estate transaction followed by an $8 million investment? Do two of Wichita's most accomplished real estate developers need Kevass Harding's guidance on refurbishing a strip mall?

Regardless of Kevass Harding's involvement in H.H. Holdings LLC, there is an obvious conflict between the Harding's financial interest and the interests of USD 259. While Kevass Harding might believe USD 259 needs an additional $350 million, it's not going to come from his new investment property.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sarah Olson makes Chicken Salad


"I don't think (low turnout) is a statement that people are saying no. In fact, you could see it the other way around: People must not be that negative about it."

So says Sarah Olson, head of Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education (go ahead, google it). The problem seems to be that attendance at the Super-Duper rally meetings for the bond issue has been what can charitably described as "thin". The Wichita Eagle describes the scene:

About 40 people attended the first meeting at Seltzer Elementary School last month -- most of them school district officials or members of CARE. Subsequent meetings have drawn fewer people.

Our esteemed school board was kind enough to move the goal posts at the request of Sarah Olson and her CARE organization, to ensure that they enough time to adequately inform the public about the great advantages of the $350 million bond proposal.

This is the best CARE can do?

Nobody showed up because they all love the idea of higher property taxes and giving more money to a school district that can barely get 3/4 of the students to graduate?

Let's take Sarah absurdity to it's logical conclusion in a couple other contexts:

-If no one showed up to Mayor Brewer's campaign rally he could reasonable believe everyone thought he was doing a great job.

-No tickets are sold to a concert at the Orpheum because everyone enjoys the band's music so much they want to stay home and listen to their albums.

-Poor attendance at school would indicate that a student has already learned everything and is smarter than all the other kids.

-The lunch crowd at Crazy Joe's Possum BBQ is almost nonexistent because people just love that smoked possum too much.

Heck, even without the benefit of a secret survey, an 8 year old can figure out that if no one comes to her birthday party it doesn't mean that 'people must not be that negative about it.'


Thursday, June 26, 2008

More USD 259 Deception


Today I happened to stumble across a nice little chart that is titled "2007 Mill Levy Comparison" on the USD 259 website. Looking at the chart, one would immediately surmise that the mill levy for Wichita Schools is lower than surrounding districts. In fact, the chart contains this little blurb "Adding 3.5 mills would still keep Wichita the lowest in the area".

Well how about that? Wichita has the lowest mill levy rate in the area! As you might expect, the USD 259 PR department isn't on the level. In fact, they are being purposely deceptive and their claim is patently false.

Lets take a look at three sets of numbers for local school districts...

+++++++++++Bonds++++Rec Com+++Total Mill Levy++++Total to Dist
Wichita ------5.88(9.38) ----0.00--------53.23 (56.73) --------53.23 (56.73)
Derby --------5.78------------6.89---------51.39------------------44.5
Valley Cen---14.96-----------4.42---------57.73------------------53.31
(not SG County)

A bit of explanation before we dive in: These numbers are from the Kansas Department of Education website from 2007. The "Bonds" column represents total mills to cover the cost of Bonds and Interest. The "Rec Dept" is the mill levy for local recreation departments. "Total Mill Levy" is all categories, including those not on this chart. The final category is the total amount that the school district actually receives.

Under Kansas law, cities or school districts can bear the responsibility for collecting the property tax for a local recreation commission. It is essentially a pass through and the schools districts do not keep those tax revenues. Why does it matter? It doesn't. However, if the USD 259 PR folks had not added the total irrelevant Recreation Commission numbers into their calculations, USD 259 would not show the lowest mill levy as they claimed.

In fact, Wichita is 8th of the 10 Sedgwick County districts, and would jump to 6th in overall mill levy with an additional 3.5 mills to cover the bond issue.

It's interesting that the 259 officials would bring up the Recreation Commission revenues. In the last column, I subtracted the Rec Com mills to get a figure of the mill levy amount that is actually going to the school district. Currently, Wichita ranks 6th of 10 school districts. With an additional 3.5 mills, 259 would jump up to 4th.

Here's the rub, besides the dishonesty of the 259 leadership in putting this together, the proposed school bond will drive the total mill levy in USD 259 higher than Maize. In real terms, USD 259 would even receive a higher mill levy than Andover Schools.

If the Wichita School Board is complaining about families moving out of the district now, wait until the raise the mill levy higher than the 'rich' districts while still not improving the 76% graduation rate.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wichita School Board Abdicates

Few truly believed that the members of the USD 259 school board were ever, really, in charge of what has been happening in the district. Yet, the decision of the school board to publicly abdicate their responsibilities still comes as something of a surprise.

The story in Sunday's Wichita Eagle seems to indicate that CARE will be making the decisions regarding the size and shape of the bond plan.

Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education (CARE), a group of volunteers who support the bond issue, will hold a series of public forums in coming weeks to gather input from voters.

The hope, said co-coordinator Sarah Olson, is "to engage the community, and also to find out what people's concerns are."

"Depending on what the community tells us... we may have to reformulate (the plan)," she said.

Really? Sarah Olson and CARE are going to reformulate the plan? I don't recall seeing Sarah Olson's name on a ballot.

Joe Johnson, senior vice president for Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey, said it's too early to say whether the bond proposal will change because it may have strong support now.

But "it never hurts to get public input," he said. "And if there are compelling reasons (to reduce the bond), then CARE needs to take a look at that, and they will."

CARE leaders plan to collect feedback from the forums, as well as from a recent telephone survey, and present recommendations to the school board July 28. The board would have to vote by mid-August to put the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.

After the decidedly negative public response to having a $350 million shoved down our collective throats, it's nice that we have permission from Joe Johnson to give public input, as opposed to the 79 hand selected members of the 'advisory group'. But there is still hope that the public will rise up and demand higher taxes and a $350 million bond plan.

Interim superintendent Martin Libhart hopes the upcoming public forums -- one for each quadrant of the district -- will show rousing support for the bond issue plan.

Then again with a headline like this "Low turnout for bond issue meeting" and fewer than 40 attendees at the first public meeting, mostly CARE members and USD259 employees, it seems unlikely.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Wisdom of Betty Arnold

Wichita School Board Member Betty Arnold should be saluted for her clear statement on what she sees as a lack of clear goals in the evaluation process of a former assistant principal.

Board member Betty Arnold said her main concern was what she saw as "a lack of objective, measurable goals" in the evaluation process.

"You need to have goals in place that you can quantify, that are not subjective," she said. "That did not seem to be the case here, and that's a problem."

It sounds like Betty "gets it". To measure success, there must be some clearly defined goal, and a way to measure progress towards that goal.

For instance, a goal for the district could be something like "reduce the drop out rate from 24% to 10% within the next five years," or "improve the pass rate of 10th grade students on state math tests from 42% to 60% by 2012."

Let's take a peek at the USD 259 Strategic Plan:

1. We will deliver an aligned curriculum based on challenging standards, measure achievement, and ensure all students meet the standards.

2.We will recruit, develop, support and retain a high-quality, diverse teaching, administrative and support staff to improve staff performance and enhance student achievement.

3. We will provide educational programs from pre-kindergarten through post-secondary that promote life-long learning to enhance the quality of life for all students.

4. We will have safe, positive, disciplined and drug-free schools.

5. We will build and maintain strong relationships with parents, families, the community and businesses.

6. We will develop, implement and maintain a scheduled plan to upgrade district technology.

7. We will design and implement a plan that lifts the burden of desegregation from any one segment of our community, and removes the effects of racial isolation, and increases programs of choice.

8. We will upgrade and maintain district facilities to support and enhance student achievement.

9. We will ensure sound financial stewardship throughout the system.

10. District leadership will continuously evaluate the performance of the district in reaching district goals.

Well, do you thing the board is doing on meeting those goals?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wichita School Board - "Go Along to Get Along"

The Wichita Eagle caught my attention yesterday with this lead that bears a remarkable resemblance to honest debate and sound stewardship of district resources.

The Wichita school district doesn't need another highly paid administrator to oversee racial equity and accountability, a board member said Monday.

"I'm still not happy with the idea that we're creating a special position that we don't need," said board member Jeff Davis.

Sadly, my hopes for a school board member willing to make a real difference and stand up to the USD 259 bureaucracy were dashed in the very next paragraph...

His comments came during discussion of a proposed job description for the new director of equity and accountability, a job officials hope to advertise within the district later this month. Board members -- including Davis -- voted unanimously to create the position earlier this year.

Now let's see what 'Going Along to Get Along" get's us....

The Eagle goes on to explain how the district will budget $300,000 for a 'Director of Equity and Accountability". That's $100k for a DC consultant to work up a job description of what a 'Director of Equity and Accountability' would actually do. Then another $200k for the new director's salary, the salary of a clerical assistant, and office supplies.

Allegedly, a 'Director of Equity and Accountability' would oversee the district's transition away from busing for integration, analyze data, establish diversity goals and serve on committees dealing with school boundaries and student assignments.

Of course, we can't know for sure what the 'Director of Equity and Accountability' will be doing until the $100,000 consultant comes up with a job. It seems that with a Superintendent, Interim Superintendent, 5 Assistant Superintendents, 4 Chiefs, and an even dozen department Directors, that someone in USD 259 headquarters could either figure out what job entails, or do the job entirely.

The 'Executive Director of Quality Improvement Services' can't spare some time to serve on a committee? The 'Transportation Manager' and not one of his three assistants is capable of analyzing data? However, the 'Facilities Division Director' and 'Facilities Design and Construction Director' are probably too busy figuring out their own job descriptions to help with a new position.

At the end of the day, Kevass Harding summed things up as best he could:

Board member Kevass Harding said the new administrator should ease residents' concerns over the busing change.

"One of the concerns from the community was, 'OK, when we do this, are we going to go backwards?' That was their fear," Harding said. "That really enforced to me that there's a need to have a person that's going to deal with... this whole piece on diversity, on busing."

Wait a second! Isn't changing public perception the job of the 'Marketing and Communication Division Director'?

Friday, May 30, 2008

BOE Meetings and Letters

With the ongoing "who's on first?" silliness of CARE and their survey, there hasn't been much time to revisit the May 12th BOE meeting. Fortunately, today's letter to the editor served as a reminder of an event at that meeting. Today's letter from Margaret Wooldridge of Park City sounds oddly reminiscent of 259 Board President Connie "We're going to win this" Dietz.

Lacking the ability or facts to support a $350 million bond, both Ms. Wooldridge and Dietz decided to attack bond opponents. Ms. Dietz asked one of the presenters at the BOE meeting if he had visited various schools and suggested a visit to Dodge Elementary. Ms. Wooldridge also attacked "bond opponents". Mere excerpts fail to capture the simplistic language and shrill tone of Ms. Wooldridge's letter. Commentary is parentheses.

Bond critics are ignoring the facts
Have the members of the groups opposing the bond issue visited USD 259 schools? Have they seen how the kids are crowded in classrooms? Have they seen teachers forced to use carts because there are no classrooms for them? Well, I have. My children go to Stucky Middle School and Heights High School.

(Like Dietz, pointing to failures of the District Leadership as justification for more money.)

Have opponents researched when a bond issue was passed before the 2000 bond issue? Probably not. Well, it was approved in 1974 for $30 million, which funded 41 projects. Between 1974 and 2000, the funds came from the capital outlay budget, and school officials did the best they could with what they had. They did not mismanage the 2000 bond issue. The needs were just too great.
(Actually, I have researched previous bond issues, this blog contains plenty of analysis of the 2000 bond issue with more to come.)

I think the groups that oppose the bond issue should stop trying to further their own agenda and try working for the students of USD 259.
(Again with the ad hominem attacks? Personally, I am more concerned with the 24% dropout rate than how to go about increasing property taxes.)

We need to ask ourselves not what our community can do for us, but what can we do for our community.
(JFK? Are you there? How about if we ask ourselves what the District Leadership can do to improve test scores and spend money in schools that really need help?)

I have no agenda. I am just a parent and friend of other parents who want our children to get a better education, become productive adults and have pride in their schools and community.
Park City

(Sorry Ms Wooldridge, people who write letters to the editor generally have an agenda. In this case, it is to get the bond issue passed.)

It is difficult to take Ms. Wooldridge or Dietz seriously when, instead of making a justification for the bond, they simply go into attack mode. The USD259 Board delayed the bond vote so CARE would have more time to "educate the public". If silly attacks against "bond opponents" is their best idea of how to educate the public, it would certainly explain the sad state of education in USD 259.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

CARE to do it Right the First Time?

Today, Randy Thon from SJCF CARE bestowed this little beauty on the Wichita Community:

"We're putting all our efforts forward in doing this right the first time -- getting information out to people and getting them to understand how important it is," he said.

How wonderful!

If only this was the "first time". The school board wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars by approving a special bond election for May 6th. Then, in a move that would have made a tin-pot dictator blush, changed the date of the election. Anyone given to believing Martin Libhart knows that this delay will cost thousands of dollars more in inflation.

The SJCF CARE leadership isn't just disconnected from the history of this bond plan, they don't even seem to have a grasp on their own organization. When asked in the same story about a survey being conducted by SJCF CARE

Sarah Olson, co-coordinator of Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education (CARE), said the survey is "part of our ongoing campaign strategy" and was paid for with donations.

But both Olson and co-coordinator Randy Thon said they don't know who is conducting the survey, how much it cost, how many people will be called, or the nature of the questions being asked.

That is leadership befitting a group in favor of giving $350 million to a school district that needs nearly $900 and 40 hours worth of work just to figure out how many classrooms are in the district.

Monday, May 19, 2008

School Board Lacks Right Priorities

When all else fails, follow the money. There is no way to get a clearer picture about the true priorities of a person, or government, then to see where the money goes.

Last week we took a look at the pathetically small amount of bond money that was destined for the "assigned attendance area" of Wichita. These neighborhoods are home to thousands of kids that need every break the education system can give them.

Oddly enough, two days after 259 Truth showed how schools in and around the AAA will receive less than 6% of the bond funds, the Wichita Eagle ran a multi-page advertisement in favor of the bond issue, touting that 23% of the bond funds that will be spent on athletic facilities.

Clearly, the Wichita School Board has the wrong priorities.

Nearly 25% of USD 259 students drop out of school. While the school board members are busy patting themselves on the back for improving the drop out rate by one percent, another 800 students will drop out of Wichita schools this year and enter society without so much as a high school diploma.

It's a shame that USD 259 school board is more worried about new athletic facilities and "keeping up with the Jones" in Maize, Goddard and Rose Hill than they seem to be concerned about the urban core of our community and the very real drop out problem in our school district.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Bond and Busing

Almost all Wichitans would like to see the end of mandatory busing, for a variety of reasons. The USD 259 Department of Snake-Oil Sales has been hard at work promoting the idea that there is a direct tie between passage of the $350 million bond issue and the end of mandatory busing.

The USD 259 web page entitled "Bond issue supports the end of busing for desegregation" explains

With the end of forced busing, elementary students in the Assigned Attendance Area now have an opportunity to return to their neighborhood schools if they choose to do so.

“As more kids over time come back to their neighborhood to attend school, we will eventually need more space in those schools,” said Martin Libhart, Chief Operations Officer.

Without getting into issues like the savings to the district from ending busing, it is clear that termination of the busing program should not hinge on the passage of the $350 million bond issue.

There are nine schools in the AAA (assigned attendance area) and directly adjacent to the AAA.

Currently, none of the schools is at capacity. L'Ouverture is the closest with 350 students in a school with capacity for 360. Isley, on the other hand, only has 202 students in a school designed for 450. Among the schools* there is currently space for an additional 583 students before present capacity is reached.

There are very real concerns about ensuring that the schools in the AAA meet the standards as the schools in the rest of the district.

Under the bond proposal, three of those schools will receive no expenditures for upgrades: Gordon Parks (built in 2008), L'Ouverture (remodeled in 2004), and Washington (2003).

One school, Isley, will be completely replaced by a new $10 million elementary school even though it had a new addition built in 2005.

The remaining five schools would receive a total of $10,534,000 in new construction, for a grand total of about $20.5 million going for improvements in the AAA and adjacent areas.

That's 5.8% of the entire $350 million bond issue....or 26% of USD 259's unencumbered $77 million cash balance last year....or 58% of the district's $35 million annual capital improvement budget.

*This does not include Gordon Parks as USD 259 has no current information included in the bond plan

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wichita School Board Information Management

Despite claims that the District wants to educate the public about the bond issue and promote community involvement, some things are just too sensitive to share with the public.

On Monday, Bob Weeks made a statement to the entire Wichita School Board, including his concerns about the Districts attempts to stonewall (he put it much more diplomatically) the public on information about the district and the bond.

Specifically, Mr. Weeks discussed an open records request for the number of classrooms in USD 259. He was told that the district didn't have that information available, and it would cost nearly $900 to have someone work 40 hours (USD 259 file clerks make $21.50 an hour?) to conjure up the numbers.

Common sense would dictate that if you are claiming that your penny jars are overfull, you would need to know a) how many pennies you have, and b) how many jars you have. For a true public debate, the Wichita community should know how many students are in the district, and how many classrooms are available.

Is this information being made available? Maybe, but with some strings attached.

This exchange sums up the Wichita School Board's view of what information is suitable for public consumption.

"Without accurate and complete data, without a common set of facts to reason from, we feel the community can't have an effective dialogue," he said.

"So if you had the correct information," board member Betty Arnold asked Weeks, "then would you support the bond issue?"

Ms. Arnold clearly seems to be seeking a quid-pro-quo arrangement with information that should, under state law, be made public. If we bestow this information on you, will you be quiet?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


May 6th has come and passed without the passage of a $350 million school bond!

It is a victory for those focused on quality education for Wichita children, not taxpayer funded spending for spending sake.

In yesterday's Wichita Eagle, Bob Weeks suggested that perhaps the district should pull the bond question entirely. The bond issue proposal is a bloated monstrosity designed to soak taxpayers to fix problems that never would have developed with proper management. The proposal never should have seen the light of day.

Unfortunately, taking the current bond issue off the table will also take away the opportunity for Wichita voters to send a clear message to the current school board. The USD 259 board and staff have gotten a nice splash of cold water as evidenced by their bait-and-switch with the election date. That is good for something, but does nothing to address the extreme level of arrogance by the board, and profound mismanagement by district staff.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What is the Problem?

In light of the direct assault on democracy and gross mismanagement on the part of USD 259 officials, it seems that responding to one little letter to the editor in the Wichita Eagle would be a waste of time. But this little tid-bit from Greg Mudd's letter from April 26th caught my attention:

"What makes me sick are the number of people in this city who complain that their taxes will go up but who have no solution to the problems and no real knowledge of the condition of the schools. If you don't have a solution to the real problems, don't complain."

I sympathize with Mr. Mudd. It is troubling to see people complain about their taxes going up yet offering no solutions to resolve the real problems. Indeed, the only thing more sickening are the number of people in this city who want to raise taxes who have no solution to the real problems.

Mr. Mudd, money is not a solution.

USD 259 has been failing for years. The district was recently boasting about a 76% graduation rate. Ok, 76% might be "C" work in the classroom, but it also means that 24% of Wichita students are not graduating.

So, Mr. Mudd and others are left with the question, what are the "real problems" of the district? Lack of football fields? Lack of swimming pools? Cafeterias that are too small? Are those the "real problems"? Would additional millions of dollars funnelled from homeowners to Shaefer, Johnson, Cox & Frey some how improve the graduation rates?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What about the Other Half of the Bond?

It was nice to see that Martin Libhart finally came clean with the amount of the $350 million bond issue that will be used to pay for FEMA safe rooms. $75 million...just over 21% of the total bond amount.

The USD 259 website proclaims that "It is a FACT that LESS THAN ONE-THIRD of the facility improvements in the bond issue plan are for fine arts, physical education and athletic facilities." (The capitalization makes it extra-true?) That would be less than $190,500,000 going to those types of facilities.

$350,000,000 Bond Issue
-$115,500,000 Arts/Athletic
-$ 75,000,000 FEMA shelters
$159,000,000 ?????

-- Martin Libhart seems to be off to a great start. He has cracked the whip on the USD 259 Public Relations Department and finally made them take the list of reasons why the bond vote HAD to be on the May 6th. Good Job Martin!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Volunteerism not Dead in Wichita!

Kudos to the great folks at Schaefer Johnson Cox & Frey! In these days when we hear so many stories or corporate corruption and abuse it is heartwarming to hear a story of a good corporate citizen.

When a local pro-bond group needed facilities for the important work of educating the citizens of Wichita on the virtues of a $350 million bond, volunteering both time and resources, Schaefer Johnson rode to the rescue and restored our faith in corporate commitment to our community.

As Kenton Cox said in the Wichita Eagle, "We just believe in what's being done, and we believe very strongly in public education."

Maybe we've forgotten what it means to volunteer in our community. In case you've forgotten, here's what it means:

1. somebody who works for nothing: somebody who works without being paid

The proposed 2008 bond issue is the largest in state history and Schaefer Johnson Cox & Frey stands to make much more than mere $3 million they garnered from the 2000 bond issue.

Anyone want to volunteer?

If pro-bond leaders think Wichitans are gullible enough to believe that a business with a multi-million dollar interest in the outcome of the bond vote is "volunteering" I can't wait to see what comes next.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

More USD 259 Website Fun

This shrill headline from an allegedly neutral source of information, the USD 259 website:

FACT CHECK: The Wichita Public School’s response to false statements said against the bond issue

Despite the childish sounding response of the taxpayer funded mouthpieces at the Administration building, and poor English, it might be fun to explore a few of the "false statements":

-The administration claims that 700 jobs a year were supported by the 2000 bond issue. There is no breakdown of how many jobs were supported at what contracting firms, or which architecture firm...but we already know the answer to that question.

If the BOE is going to take money out of the economy and direct it to the construction industry, perhaps they should consider other forms of economic development. Maybe USD259 should buy a corporate jet. That would put some folks in Wichita to work. Kevass Harding and Connie Dietz could each give me $20 out of their own pocket. That's $40 more economic development in our fair city.

-Existing buildings are the most cost ineffiencent solution.
Oddly enough, the analysis of this isn't to be found on the USD 259 website. The analysis of why holding the bond vote in May is still up on the website though.

-The capacity figures quoted by those against the bond issue are from outdated sources.
This blog simply used the most recent figures provided on the USD 259 website. It is probably too much to ask that the administration provide the taxpayers of Wichita with up-to-date information on the website, instead of openly campaigning in favor of the bond issue.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Who is "We"?

On Monday, board president Connie Dietz said delaying the vote was the right move, despite potential cost increases.

"Yes, it's worth it, because we're going to win," she said.

Given the history of the administration, it's not surprising to see money spent on frivolous window dressing and consultants instead of addressing the real issues of the the district. However, it seems odd that the President of the USD 259 School Board would not be the least bit concerned about spending taxpayer dollars to manipulate an election.

Often times, elected officials attempt to maintain a degree of impartiality and neutrality, not only is it required by Kansas law, but it is one of our most basic democratic institutions.

Frankly, Connie Dietz should be admired for not even bothering to pretend that she isn't using her elected position to affect the outcome of the bond issue vote. No condescending comments about "hearing all sides" and she isn't wasting our time by telling voters that she is "carefully considering the issues". Nope, just a flat out "we're going to win".

The attempt by the school board to fix the school bond election, coupled with the refusal to allow public comment on the board's decision to change the day of the election makes it clear that Connie Dietz doesn't include Wichita voters as part of her "We".

Friday, April 4, 2008

An Interesting Version of Democracy or Simple Outrage

CARE, the curious little group of Bond supporters, is asking for a "time-out", a "mulligan", a "re-do". Frankly, I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what they are asking for because there isn't a term in our American political lexicon for what they are requesting. The only thing that seems to fit is "Outrage!".

Seems that the bond supporters are going to be asking for an "extension" because, in the words of Sarah Olson, co-coordinator of CARE, the delay "would give us more time to get the message out, because it's a more complicated message this time than it was in 2000." (that is..."we just saw our internal polling and it doesn't look good.")

The USD259 version of democracy allows the district simply change the rules as they see fit.

I hope this isn't what the Wichita Schools are teaching in Civics classes. Oh, and all that fluff about the financial importance of having a bond vote early...just disregard. (how many days will that take to come off the USD259 website?)

Never mind that USD 259 is already spending tax dollars to advertising the bond issue. You've got to love the line at the end about not keeping track of what is being spent on advertising for the bond issue. They probably won't keep track of how much is spent reprinting all the materials with new dates.

What remains to be seen is if the School Board's version of democracy includes inviting citizens opposed to the Bond issue to the meeting proposed by CARE, and will carefully consideration of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Beware the Round Numbers

After reviewing my monthly bank statement I made a startling discovery. Not one singular purchase came out to a round figure. Plenty of charges like $21.37 or $178.84, but not a single payment for a even number like $350.

Perhaps the architecture, bond financing and construction industries operate under a different reality from the rest of us. It could be that adding a new 8-lane track at Mead Middle School will cost $750,000 on the dot as suggested on the USD 259 website. Maybe adding a new library and converting the old library to a classroom at Emerson Elementary is going to cost taxpayers precisely $900,000 as claimed by the USD259 Public Relations department.

Another possibility exists....all the numbers proposed as part of the 2008 Bond Issue are, at best, simple guesses as to the costs associated with the projects. I'll use the lovely Bond Issue Fact Booklet for some analysis.

Reviewing the cost for each school there are plenty of nice round numbers. Adding up the total cost it looks like, yep, the costs for all the projects adds up to $350 million. That factors in a rather odd final number $2,846,000 for "land acquisition/inflation". That final number supposes that the costs for the new buildings didn't include the cost for property. Even without any additional land expenses, it would appear that a $350 million dollar project, with construction spread out over at least 5 years, would only plan on 0.08% for inflation.

Based on the breakdown of expenses provided by the district, it also appears that there are no costs, expenses or fees associated with the issuance of the bonds themselves. The Board of Education resolution contemplated such fees, but the USD 259 PR department doesn't seem to have included them in any of their slick literature.

The good folks at Schaefer, Johnson, Cox, Frey Architecture who put this plan together (more on that next week) along with the District leadership, owe the voters an actual accounting of how our tax dollars will be spent, not ball park estimates that have no grounding in reality.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Planning for Something

The public relations staff at USD 259 has been touting the new bond issue proposal as important to "the continued growth and vitality of Wichita schools" and "the future of our community."

We need only look back a few short years to clearly see the abject failure of Wichita School District's attempts to project and meet future needs. Lets take a look at some of the new schools built within the last five years:

-Horace-Mann Magnet. Built in 2003. Will receive $2,400,000 under the new bond issue proposal for 4 additional classrooms, a new gym, locker rooms, and commons area. No additional student capacity is expected.

-Stucky Middle School. Built in 2003. Will receive $840,000 in additional funds for 3 new classrooms and $750,000 for an 8 lane running track, for a total of $1,590,000 in new bond funded construction.

-Washington Elementary. Built in 2003. Will not receive any new construction dollars from the proposed bond issue.

-Enterprise Elementary. Built in 2003. An additional $1,500,000 will go towards constructing 4 new classrooms, a mechanical room, additional storage rooms and a 250 seat cafeteria.

-Jackson Elementary. Built in 2004. Although Jackson is only at 86% capacity, it will receive $1,995,000 in bond money for 11 new classrooms of various kinds.

Under the current bond proposal $7,485,000 will be spent on facilities that are less than 5 years old.

As the old saying goes "if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail". The USD259 leadership has certain met both parts of that statement. Instead of building during the new construction phase when it would have been much less expensive, the district leadership expects Wichita taxpayers to pick up $7.5 million worth of their inability to adequately plan.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Moving Target

The first thing a new Superintendent of Schools might want to do is attempt figure out exactly how capacity for 150 students was suddenly lost.

The 2007 figures for building capacity (see previous post) showed College Hill elementary with capacity for 600 students. However, the bond issue fact information from the USD 259 website shows that the capacity for College Hill elementary is only 450 students.

Here are a couple more interesting notes from College Hill:

-There was a new addition built in 2006. Yet, here we are again two years later planning another addition.

-The projected capacity of College Hill will remain at 600, even under the 2008 bond issue plan.

-The District will spend $600,000 on a school with declining enrollment. In 2006 school year enrollment was 422 students at College Hill. In December 2007 it was 398 students.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Overcrowding Myth


Kids packed like sardines in classrooms, barely able to move about, unable to hear the teacher, and no elbow room to work on their math problems.

Of course that's not an acceptable scenario. So how do we fix the problem? The first step, would be to figure out how overcrowded Wichita schools really are.

Using USD 259 statistics (I already saved it, don't bother taking it down now)

It looks like the total district has capacity for 55,437 students. With a total enrollment of 48,770 that means existing facilities are being used at 88% capacity.

Here's how it breaks down:

High Schools - Capacity 13,006/Enrollment 12,763 - Utilization 98%
Middle Schools - Capacity 14,335/Enrollment 9,921 - Utilization 69%
Grade Schools - Capacity 28,095/Enrollment 24,271 - Utilization 86%

Monday, February 25, 2008


This little tidbit from the USD259 Website was downright shocking....

"The $350 million bond issue would address many critical needs for Wichita and its students:
Additional classrooms to accommodate growth in key areas of our community and to reduce class sizes
What's new?
School projects
Bond Issue Fact Sheet
Voter Registration
Build 60 safe room storm shelters
Support the end of busing for desegregation with renovations to schools in the AAA area to provide equitable facilities
Renovates or rebuilds aging and unsafe physical education, athletic and fine arts facilities."

UNSAFE? The District Leadership is continuing to allow our children to use UNSAFE facilities? If the facilities are unsafe, they should be closed immediately. Essentially, the School Board is threatening the health of our children until this bond issue is passed.

With competent management, the capital outlay budget, 2000 bond issue, and windfall of state money should be enough to keep kids safe. Instead, the District has decided to use the safety of Wichita Children as a bargaining chip in their quest for a new bond issue.

Wichita Parents deserve a full explanation of which schools are unsafe and why the district is putting money ahead of safety.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Every once in a while, we all see something that at first appears normal, then suddenly strikes us as odd after thinking about it for a while. Lynn Rogers' editorial in the Sunday Wichita Eagle is one of those things. His piece was a point by point explanation of why we need another multi-million dollar bond issue, but was accompanied by an article that ended on an interesting note...

"The board hasn't decided what to do if the bond issue fails, said board vice president Lynn Rogers.

'We've not talked about any Plan B. I don't think there is one,' he said."

It's frightening that our school board and leadership are so shortsighted that they cannot, or will not, contemplate how to manage our school district without running up debt, and refinancing old debt.

It's common knowledge that USD 259 has been planning a bond issue for some time. The pieces are in place and the process is underway. The Eagle has already endorsed the bond issue based on a visit from Winston Brooks, Connie Dietz and Lynn Rogers.

Since USD 259 has an extensive Public Relations Department that will be doing everything possible to promote this bond issue and spin their version of the facts to support a 'need', I thought it might be interesting to shed a little light on a few of their facts. Welcome to Wichita 259 Truth.