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.

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