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.