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.