Tag Archives: Betty Arnold

In Wichita, the attitude of some elected officials needs adjustment

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: Attitudes of Wichita government leaders towards capitalism reveal a lack of understanding. Is only a government-owned hotel able to make capital improvements? Then, two examples of the disdain elected officials express towards their constituents who don’t agree with them. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Alternatives to raising taxes, how to become involved in politics, and bad behavior by elected officials

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita voters tell pollsters that they prefer alternatives to raising taxes. Then, how can you get involved in politics? A deadline is approaching soon. Finally, some examples of why we need to elect better people to office. Episode 44, broadcast May 25, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

More parents unhappy with treatment by the Wichita school board

apple-chalkboard-booksKAKE Television reports on Wichita parents who are not happy with treatment by the school board, writing “Parents associated with Hyde tell KAKE News it’s not the decision that’s leaving a bad taste in their mouth. They’re unhappy with how the Wichita Board of Education treated them during the process.” Wichita Eagle reporting on this matter is at Wichita school board votes to transfer two teachers from Hyde Elementary.

A contributor to the newspaper’s Opinion Line wrote: “While I’m disappointed in the decision by the Wichita school board, I am simply stunned at the lack of respect Lynn Rogers afforded a fellow board member, Joy Eakins. His condescension toward her was palpable, and his remark to ‘roll your eyes if you like’ was both rude and unprofessional.”

This is not the first time citizens have suffered in this way. When a person like Lynn Rogers and most other school board members believe that they are totally responsible for — and the only reason why — any education takes place in Wichita, superciliousness and insularity are occupational hazards.

Another example is Wichita school board: critics not welcome, where I concluded “This is characteristic of this board and the entire district. They’re willing to accept citizen input when citizens agree with them. Otherwise, watch out.”

This board meeting public Betty ArnoldWhen she was president of the board of USD 259 Betty Arnold let citizens know the real purpose of board meetings, and how citizens should behave. At a meeting, citizens had criticized the board for large and important issues, but also for such mundane things as the amount of the superintendent’s monthly car allowance. Arnold admonished citizens for speaking about things like this in public. It’s not respectful, she said.

Finally, after directing a uniformed security guard to station himself near a citizen speaker, Arnold told the audience: “If we need to clear the room, we will clear the room. This board meeting is being held in public, but it is not for the public, or of the public. And I hope you understand that.”

Video of Arnold is below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Wichita school board reacts to criticism

apple-wormIn the following video, USD 259 (Wichita public school district) board member Betty Arnold reacts to concerns that citizens expressed at a recent meeting.

It’s common that citizens who disagree with governmental agencies — especially the Wichita school board — are told that they have the wrong information, or that they simply don’t understand the complexities of running government.

A few years ago when board members dismissed the input of an elected official because he disagreed with the board, I wrote in my coverage: “Certainly these three board members were dismissive of Chappell and his input. This is characteristic of this board and the entire district. They’re willing to accept citizen input when citizens agree with them. Otherwise, watch out.”

The balance of power at meetings like these is all in favor of the board. Citizens may speak for a short period of time. Then board members may speak at length without fear of being held accountable for their remarks, because if the citizen were to speak even one word out of turn, the board would shut them up.

When she was board president and citizens disagreed with action the board was considering, Arnold admonished the audience: “This board meeting is being held in public, but it is not for the public, or of the public. And I hope you understand that.”

If a citizen should want to address the board, they’ll receive a stern reminder of the time limit for speaking. This is at a school district where much board meeting time is devoted to “feel good” measures. We’ll probably see this soon as two board members end their terms. Two years ago, while strictly regulating the time of an elected official to address the board, the board found time in the same meeting to make a lengthy “goodbye” to departing board member Kevass Harding. That had nothing to do with public policy. It was constructive in no way except to board members, district staff, and Harding’s ego. By the way, he used the opportunity and time to announce his future political ambitions.

But when citizens and even elected officials and community leaders speak — even though they may speak about important and weighty matters of policy — their time is strictly regulated. If they disagree with school district orthodoxy they may be scolded and lectured with no chance to defend themselves or rebut false statements and nonsensical arguments from board members or district staff. There is nothing resembling discussion or debate except among board members and district staff — all who drink from the same ideological fountain.

Do not criticize the Wichita school board. It’s disrespectful.

When she was president of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, Betty Arnold let citizens know the real purpose of board meetings, and how citizens should behave.

At the meeting, citizens had criticized the board for large and important issues, but also for such mundane things as the amount of the superintendent’s monthly car allowance. Arnold admonished citizens for speaking about things like this in public. It’s not respectful, she said.

Finally, after directing a uniformed security guard to station himself near a citizen speaker, Arnold told the audience: “If we need to clear the room, we will clear the room. This board meeting is being held in public, but it is not for the public, or of the public. And I hope you understand that.”

She then reminded the speaker: “Again, I am asking your comments to please be respectful. No accusations are necessary.”

This certainly lets citizens know the applicability of the term public when it comes to our public schools.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Saturday October 9, 2010

This Week in Kansas: Tomorrow on KAKE Television‘s “This Week in Kansas” Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert will be a guest speaking about economic development in Kansas. This is an important topic as Kansas is in “whack-a-mole” mode as we — case by case — defend our industry from poaching by other states. This Week in Kansas airs at 9:00 am on KAKE channel 10. The Winfield Daily Courier has other notes on this upcoming episode.

Sue Schlapp: Wichita Eagle Opinion Line Extra today: “At a past Wichita City Council meeting, council member Sue Schlapp got on her soapbox about needing less government in our lives. Then last week she turned around and voted for the community improvement district tax for the Broadview Hotel. Is this talking out of both sides of her mouth?” I’m glad someone other than I has noticed this.

Dave Unruh campaign billboardDave Unruh campaign billboard

Unruh’s record on taxes: A reader sent in this photograph of a Dave Unruh billboard supporting his run for reelection to the Sedgwick County Commission, noting the irony of the “Lower Taxes” message. The reader may have been referring to Unruh’s support of a solid waste management fee (a tax by another name), his vote in August 2006 to increase the county mill levy, and his enthusiastic support of the tax for the downtown arena, now known as the Intrust Bank Arena. The vote for a tax increase in 2006 was in part to build the National Center for Aviation Training, said to be necessary to keep Wichita aviation companies in Wichita. Nonetheless, Cessna, Bombardier Learjet, and recently Hawker Beechcraft have found it necessary to shake down the state and local government for even more corporate welfare. Still, I don’t recommend voting for Unruh’s opponent Betty Arnold, who recently wondered where was the government stimulus for USD 259, the Wichita public school district, on which board she serves. Evidently Arnold doesn’t realize that nearly every dollar the Wichita schools spend is government money.

Arnold’s website missing: By the way, Google can’t find a website supporting Betty Arnold’s campaign, which says a lot right there.

Goyle and Pompeo: Tomorrow Kansas fourth Congressional district candidates Democrat Raj Goyle and Republican Mike Pompeo debate at Congregation Emanu-El at 7011 E. Central in Wichita. State of the State KS reports: “The debate will be moderated by KAKE-TV’s Tim Brown from This Week In Kansas and will focus on both local economic, political and foreign policy issues facing the U.S. The debate is free and begins at 10:40 am. A brunch will be served before the debate for $7.” It appears that Reform party candidate Susan Ducey and Libertarian Shawn Smith will not appear. The two minor party candidates made credible appearances on a recent KWCH televised forum.

Goyle video, polls: Speaking of Goyle, video of Goyle endorsing presidential candidate Barack Obama in Texas has surfaced. And, more bad polls for Goyle.

Betty Arnold’s Sedgwick County Commission race: running uphill

Last week Betty Arnold, a member of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, declared her intent to be a candidate for the Sedgwick County Commission. She’ll be running for the spot currently held by Republican Dave Unruh, who has already filed for re-election.

Arnold, a Democrat, faces an uphill battle, based on registration figures. In this district, my analysis of a recent voter file shows voter registration runs 29% Democratic, 45% Republican, and 26% unaffiliated. (The remainder are Libertarian and Reform party registrants.)

Considering recent voters — I defined this as those who voted in an election in 2008 — the numbers are worse for Arnold. In this case, 30% are Democratic, 21% are unaffiliated, and the Republican number jumps to 49%.

It’s hard to figure out what Arnold could do to persuade Republican voters to support her. Her vote for a property tax increase, her recommendation that voters approve an expensive and unneeded bond issue, and her anti-school choice stance are not positions that will appeal to conservatives and those who value freedom and liberty, be they Republican, unaffiliated, or of any other party.

If the only Republican candidate (incumbent Dave Unruh) consistently took conservative positions, Arnold might have a case to make to moderate Republicans. But Unruh’s vote for a tax increase, his support for the downtown arena tax, and his support of TIF districts and other taxpayer giveaways such as the AirTran subsidy place him firmly in the moderate Republican camp — making it difficult for Arnold to peel off potentially left-leaning Republicans or unaffiliated voters.

Top off this with the likelihood that next year could be a big year for Republicans locally and nationwide, and Arnold starts off way behind.

It’s still possible that Unruh may face a challenge in the Republican primary. Efforts have been made to recruit a candidate, and there is one well-known conservative Republican thought to be looking at the race. Last year’s take-down of moderate Republican commissioner Tom Winters in the August primary by Karl Peterjohn will be very difficult to replicate, as Unruh has shown signs that he has been preparing for the campaign.

Wichita election results equal status quo, worse

The result of yesterday’s elections in Wichita is an endorsement for the status quo. For those interested in liberty, free markets, and education in Wichita, the election was a total disaster.

On the Wichita city council, the two incumbents running for re-election won. For the open seat, Janet Miller won. While her website talks of fiscal responsibility, it’s a safe bet that Miller is on the side of increasing the size, scope, and intrusiveness of city government.

The election of Miller doesn’t signal a huge shift on the council, as Sharon Fearey, her predecessor, favored an expansionary city government.

For the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, all four incumbents won. This is terrible news for Wichita schoolchildren and taxpayers. As outlined in my post Wichita school board members should not be re-elected, the Wichita school district is moving exactly in the wrong direction on many issues.

The board members have a bad attitude, too. Walt Chappell, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education, recently experienced the overbearing arrogance of this board. My post Wichita school board video shows why members should not be re-elected holds the video that exposes these attitudes.

But as reported in the Wichita Eagle, board members are pleased. Connie Dietz actually said “This wasn’t time for new people to be on the board.”

When people like Dietz believe that they — and only they — have the ability to successfully run the Wichita schools, we’re in a lot of trouble. Wichita schoolchildren now face great danger, as any possibility of meaningful reform in the Wichita school district is becoming less likely.

Dr. Chappell asks the Wichita school board to NOT sell bonds

After seeing the way several members of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, treated Kansas State Board of Education member Walt Chappell at last Monday’s meeting, I contacted him. I was curious as to what his rebuttal would be to the scolding he received from board members Connie Dietz and Betty Arnold. Board president Lynn Rogers was gentler, but no less contemptuous. See the post Wichita school board video shows why members should not be re-elected for more coverage of this, including video.

You can read the agenda for this meeting by clicking on Board of Education Agenda for March 30, 2009. Also click on Board of Education Minutes for March 30, 2009 (Unapproved).

Here’s Chappell’s response in its entirety.

The decisions which must be made by all elected officials, businesses and families during this economic crisis are how to pay for top priority needs with less income. My main concern with the USD 259 School Board’s unanimous decision to spend over $1 million dollars on the Consent Agenda without any discussion at the March 30th meeting is that capital outlay funds are first needed to build classrooms and buy equipment to teach our students employable skills. Only 1% of the State and Local education is spent on vocational education.

Instead, the USD 259 Board approved $265,000 dollars to pave two parking lots at Cessna and Stanley Elementary which have only a few small holes which could be easily patched in two hours instead of pouring concrete over the whole area. They approved buying two small parcels of land for $192,000, bought a gym divider for $45,100 at Gammon elementary school and approved $553,985 to redo about 40% of the roof at Truesdell Middle School rather than fix a few leaks.

The Agenda item I was addressing that night had to do with the broader issue of whether the USD 259 School Board should start selling bonds to pay for the massive new $370 million dollar construction projects. In the November, 2008 election, voters in only 9 Kansas school districts approved $800 million in new school bonds which impacts the whole State budget.

The major problem for the Legislature is that each time a few districts pay principle and interest on their bonds, it is a demand transfer out of the Kansas General Fund budget. This means less money available for all State programs. USD 259 is demanding that the Legislature hold back $92.5 million dollars plus interest in revenue to cover the 25% State portion of these bonds. It is like a person building a fence on their property and then demanding that all of the neighbors on the block share the cost.

Building new general education classrooms and sports complexes during this economic crisis is the wrong decision. The money which the State Legislature is forced to pay for these bonds is needed to pay our teachers and teach employable skills to our students. We should not “Rob Peter to Pay Paul”.

For example, in USD 259, over $5 million needs to be cut from next year’s budget because the State revenues are over $1 billion short for fiscal year 2010, which starts on July 1, 2009. In addition, the Kansas Career Pipeline which matches students with resources to train them to earn a living is being canceled. Driver’s Education, the Kansas School for the Deaf and the Kansas School for the Blind are other programs which may be cut to balance the State budget. Because there is not enough tax revenue coming in and K-12 school districts refuse to make significant cost reductions in the 51% of the State funds they already receive, the Legislature has cut Higher Education in Kansas by $63 million dollars, closed prisons and rehab programs, and stopped other vital programs throughout our State.

The irony of the dismissive and angry comments from several USD 259 Board members after I spoke briefly in the three minute public comment agenda is that I fully understand the relationship between selling bonds to build sports complexes, pave parking lots and classrooms we can do without and the cuts forced on the rest of Kansas by their determination to sell these bonds in spite of the massive downturn in our economy. I studied school finance during my doctoral program at Michigan State University. I have served as an elected K-12 school board member and as Budget coordinator on that board know about capital outlay spending restrictions. I have also been the Budget and Planning Director for a six-state federal education project which included 125 schools plus wrote an Amicus brief in the Kansas Montoy school finance law suit. This information has been on my website at www.chappell4ksboe.com for nearly a year.

The fact is that selling school bonds in the foreseeable future is a grave mistake. It is taking money out of the State General Fund which is needed to pay our teachers, teach our kids employable skills, keep the tuition from rising even further at our universities and colleges, keep our communities safe and provide vital services to thousands of Kansans. The contractors and architects in Wichita who paid over $185,000 to buy TV ads plus thousands of yard signs and buttons saying 25% State money want our tax dollars to go into their pockets. This is pure greed — not educational necessity.

I ask that the USD 259 Board hold off selling any school bonds for new construction until our State budget has money to pay for these low priority wants. It is essential that decision makers at all levels tighten our belts and make sure that vital services and programs are funded first. The emphasis for capital outlay funds which districts already have, needs to be on remodeling and equipping special classrooms to teach our kids employable skills — not swimming pools, tennis courts, football fields or paving parking lots.

Respectfully submitted,
Walt Chappell, Ph.D.

Wichita school board video shows why members should not be re-elected

On Monday March 30, 2009, Walt Chappell, who was recently elected to the Kansas State Board of Education and whose district overlaps some of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, spoke before that district’s board. The hostile reaction by board members, which you may view on video that I captured, is remarkable for the insight it gives us into the board and its members. Wichitans should have no confidence in the governing ability of this board, whether they have children in Wichita schools or not.

Chappell has a lot of experience and understanding of education issues in Kansas. His hostile reception by the board members is all the more surprising given his role as a member of the Kansas State Board of Education.

I’ve talked to several citizens about the behavior of board members, especially Connie Dietz and Betty Arnold, and to a lesser extent Lynn Rogers.

“Offensive” and “unprofessional” were common reactions. “Dripping with inappropriate indignation” was one I thought was particularly perceptive.

Especially with regard to Dietz, people said it was though she was scolding a child instead of speaking to a member of the Kansas State Board of Education.

Certainly these three board members were dismissive of Chappell and his input. This is characteristic of this board and the entire district. They’re willing to accept citizen input when citizens agree with them. Otherwise, watch out.

When an elected official — especially one with some ability to shape policy that the Wichita board must follow — is treated this way, what treatment should regular citizens expect if they appear before this board in opposition?

I’ve had a dose of this myself a few times before this board. Last year Arnold tried to bargain for my support of the bond issue by proposing to give me the information I as a citizen had requested. As reported in the Wichita Eagle:

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

“If I had correct information, then I could make a decision,” Weeks answered.

Evidently it’s outside the ability of Arnold — and the other board members, for that matter — to understand that anyone could be against the bond issue for any reason.

Unfortunately, Arnold has no opponent in tomorrow’s election. Dietz and Rogers do. For the behavior shown here — and for many other reasons (click on Wichita school board members should not be re-elected) — Wichitans should vote against these members.

Wichita school board members should not be re-elected

Next Tuesday, four members of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, seek to be elected again to their current posts.

These members — Lanora Nolan, Lynn Rogers, Connie Dietz and Betty Arnold — are part of a board and school district that is increasingly out-of-step with education reforms that are working in other parts of the country. Their policies and actions are harmful to both Wichita schoolchildren and Wichita taxpayers.

At the time when most of the country is starting to realize that quality teachers, not the number of teachers, is what makes the biggest difference in student outcomes, the Wichita school district is going the wrong way. The bond issue, with its focus on reducing class size, will force the district to hire more teachers. This makes it more likely that schoolchildren in Wichita will be taught by poorly-performing teachers.

Its contract with its teachers union forbids any type of merit pay that might induce the best teachers to stay in teaching. Instead, all teachers are paid the same. Only length of service and extra education credentials allow teachers to earn more. Now researchers have found that length of service and the credentials earned at university schools of education make very little difference in student outcomes.

Across the country parents can take advantage of school choices programs such as charter schools, vouchers, and tax credits. These programs give parents — instead of school administrators and politicians — choice as to where to send their children to school. In some cases, they allow parents to decide how their own tax dollars should be spent. The Wichita school district, including its board and the incumbent candidates that stand for election next week, are firmly against these type of programs that have benefited many students and parents. They prefer a government monopoly.

The Wichita school district and its board are miles behind other school districts and governmental agencies regarding transparency and openness. Its recent search for a new superintendent was conducted in such a secretive manner that even the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman — one of the district’s several apologists at that newspaper — was critical.

The district and board’s attitude towards citizens is nothing less than hostile. In particular, board member, now board president, Lynn Rogers has told citizens that records requests are a burden to the district. When citizens ask for evidence of claims the district makes, Rogers advises them to use Google to look things up for themselves.

The board gets even little things wrong. For example, the board’s agenda that’s posted on the USD 259 website holds appendixes, which are usually attached files that hold additional information such as a Powerpoint presentation. But these files are removed quickly after the meeting. Most governmental agencies leave them available for eternity.

Three board members, in their joint campaign materials, state they are proud of 11 years of rising test scores. Across the country school districts and states have watered-down testing standards in response to political pressure to produce rising test scores. Is this the case in Wichita and Kansas? We don’t know. But as scores rise on tests administered by the state, they remain unchanged on the national tests that are immune from local political pressures.

The fact that all of the candidates facing election challenges have advertised jointly is evidence of another severe problem on the Wichita board of education: Rarely is there controversy or evidence of independent thought by board members. Consider the bond issue from last year, which passed narrowly (51 percent to 49 percent) when voted on by the public. Board members were unanimous in their support of the bond issue. What are the odds of that? (Well, board member Jeff Davis initially dissented, but only because he thought his district didn’t get its fair share. His straying from the board’s groupthink mentality was short-lived, however, as at the next meeting he changed his vote.)

Then there’s the bond issue from last year. One analysis found that 72% of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, came from contractors, architects, engineering firms and others who directly stand to benefit from the new construction. The board rewarded Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture for its efforts in passing the bond issue with a no-bid $3.7 million contract to manage the bond issue.

As large as the bond issue is, to board members it’s not enough. Board members started with a list of projects that totaled some $550 million. These projects are on the back burner, and as soon as this board senses the time is right, it will propose another bond issue. Count on it.

We should remember the board’s conduct during the election. Calling a special election to be held in May, the board delayed it when it appeared the political landscape was not in their favor — after their opponents had mobilized and spent resources. The board appeared to rely on a hapless citizen group during the summer months for recommendations. Despite the district’s denials, huge amounts of district resources, all provided by taxpayers, were used to promote the bond issue.

This Wichita school district and its board is an institution firmly rooted in and preferring a big-government style of education monopoly. It ignores evidence of reforms that work, preferring to remain beholden to special interests such as the teachers union, education bureaucrats, and firms that benefit from school construction. None of its members deserve re-election.

Kansas Blog Roundup for June 20, 2008

When reporting on Kansas bloggers, a trip to The Kansas Meadowlark is just about the best place to start. This week the Meadowlark reports on SamSphere Kansas, an event hosted by the Sam Adams Alliance. I myself had the pleasure of attending this event and even spoke for a moment to the group. Thank you to Sam for hosting this event.

Internet sources say Gov. Kathleen Sebelius attended Bilderberg 2008 Conference reports on the governor’s trip to this event. What is this group? The Wikipedia article for it has section headings “Mainstream Criticism” and “Conspiracy Theories.” You be the judge after reading the short article.

Both the Meadowlark and I have some issues with judges in Kansas, and the post Kansas 2008 Judicial Accountability Report Card: C- introduces a study that reinforces that impression.

Stay Red Kansas thanks Todd Tiahrt and Pat Roberts for their work in the protest of the Boeing tanker decision in Got Boeing? There are some who disagree, including this writer in Is Boeing Tanker “Victory” Good For America?

The Joyful Cynic writes about Unused Pavement and Wasted Yellow Paint, describing a patch of road where no one can legally drive. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

The Kansas Republican blogs on “the looming State Senate primary civil war” in these posts: Who Heads Candidate Recruitment?, Huelskamp’s Foolish Rants and the Need for Pragmatic Politics, and Is Kobach Complicit in Huelskamp’ Senate Purge? In the last post Custer proclaims his own blog as “Kansas’ most prominent Republican blog,” which seems a tad overlaced with hubris, considering these three posts take Kansas Senator Tim Huelskamp to task for perceived uppityness.

The Kansas Trunkline, the official blog of the Kansas Republican Party, reports on more travel by Kathleen Sebelius in Chapter 2: Where in the world is Kathleen Sebelius? This article also reports on her speaking engagement before Earth justice. The link is here: Earthjustice presents Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. A quote from the page promoting the event: “Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will appear June 26 in downtown Denver at an Earthjustice program to tell the story of how her bruising fight with coal power interests has helped create a national clean energy agenda.” Too bad this event is sold out.

The Kansas Republican Assembly Blog announces its new president and makes endorsements for Kansas house and senate primary races in KRA Board announces preferred candidates and new President. The article Source: Slattery campaign gains KDP email list asks the questions “Why is the Slattery campaign getting access to email lists from the KDP but not Lee Jones? Both are Democrats and running against Pat Roberts, so why is one candidate getting preferential treatment?”

The Quite Conservative is worried that “defenders of traditional America are sleeping” in While You were Sleeping.

The mysterious “Boondoggler” at Wichita 259 Truth comments on Wichita school board member Betty Arnold in The Wisdom of Betty Arnold. Also: insightful commentary on the confusing relationship between the Wichita school board and Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education (CARE), a citizen group that supports a school bond issue in Wichita School Board Abdicates.

At Voice For Liberty in Wichita, home to the Kansas blog roundup, find more analysis of a faulty economic impact report the Wichita public school district relies on in Wichita School Bond Issue: Is Economic Impact Real? The author also explains why surrounding suburban school districts have newer facilities than the Wichita district: their enrollments are growing, while Wichita’s isn’t: Wichita School Bond Issue: Surrounding Districts Are Growing and Building New Facilities. Regarding a loan the City of Wichita is making to a prominent businessman, the writer laments that Wichita City Manager’s Warning is Too Late.

While Bob Weeks can’t take credit for inventing an artful phrase, he does take the Wichita school district to task in Wichita Public School District’s Taxation Without Information. He also spots an unfortunate bias for government and its institutions in an otherwise fine Wichita Eagle article in the post The Wichita Eagle’s Preference For Government.

Finally, what are some Kansas politicians’ true motives in challenging the Boeing tanker decision? Find out in Is Boeing Tanker “Victory” Good For America?

Wichita Public School District’s Taxation Without Information

Taxation without information. I wish I could take credit for inventing this phrase that I recently heard someone use. It captures very well the key characteristic of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, and its campaign for the proposed 2008 bond issue.

As highlighted by Wichita Eagle columnist Mark McCormick in his column District’s public files ought not cost $1,000, the Wichita public school district doesn’t like to release information. Mr. McCormick accuses some bond issue opponents of using Kansas Open Records Act information requests simply to “make hay for another ‘No’ campaign straw man.” I’ll explain another day why he’s wrong with the straw man argument, but even if he was correct, the people still have the right to know some basic facts.

The district does release a lot of information, of course. Whether it is useful in making a decision about the proposed bond issue is up to each voter. Sometimes these facts have been expressed unclearly. This was the case when I and a number of journalists used an incorrect figure for the cost of the safe rooms. The district issued a clarification, so now we have the correct information -– maybe.

Other needed clarifications, however, are not easy to obtain. The number of classrooms at each school, the subject of one records request, is an example. It seems that people intuitively understand the number of classrooms. They reason like this: “For school A, the district may estimate an enrollment of B students. The goal for class size is C students per class. Currently school A has D number of classrooms. So let’s do the arithmetic and see if school A needs more classrooms.”

Is it as simple as this, or is the situation more complicated? Doesn’t the district go through a process similar to this when it figures how many teachers are needed at each school?

More importantly, since overcrowding is given as one of the most important reasons why the Wichita school district needs a bond issue, shouldn’t facts and figures like these be known by the district, readily available, and shouldn’t the public be able to see them?

Recently I attended an event hosted by Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education, a citizen group that supports the bond issue. By way of what I considered to be a slightly bizarre method, a handful of experts from USD 259 addressed citizen concerns and answered questions. If you attended the event and knew little or nothing about the bond issue, you would have learned something, at least USD 259’s take on the issue. For those familiar with the issues, there was no new information presented.

Afterwards, the friend I attended the event with was pressured by a representative of the school district’s architect. Now that we have given you the information, he said, will you support the bond issue? This was a slightly better offer than what Wichita school board member Betty Arnold made to me, which was, as reported in The Wichita Eagle “So if you had the correct information, then would you support the bond issue?” My response was “If I had correct information, then I could make a decision.”

Sometimes even simple tasks regarding information are either difficult to perform or simply overlooked. As of today, June 19, 2008, the website for Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education at vote4kids2008.org still states the bond issue special election will be held on May 6, 2008, when at CARE’s own request, the Wichita school board canceled that election on April 7, 2008.

The Wichita school district’s attitude towards the public is demonstrated by two events. One, as related in In Wichita, Don’t Take Photographs of the School Administration Building! which tells how a citizen, standing on a public sidewalk taking a photograph of the Wichita school district administration building, was ordered by a district security guard to stop.

The second, much more serious, is the district’s willingness to rewrite its own rules when it feels things aren’t going its way, as explained in Wichita School Board Poisons Democracy.

I have several basic requests for information pending at the Wichita school district. Simple things like where on the district’s website can I see test scores? Where can I learn the definition of a “violent act” so that we can properly understand statistics made available at the Kansas State Department of Education? I will report on the results. Until then, it is taxation without information.

Distaste for tax increases faded quickly on Wichita school board

In a candidate questionnaire from the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce before the recent USD 259, the Wichita public school district board member election, Kevass Harding answered “No” when asked if he would support a tax increase for Wichita schools. The other successful candidates — Betty Arnold, Jeff Davis, and Barb Fuller — were more artful in their responses, promising “financial responsibility” and the usual empty pledges to spend wisely and efficiently. Ms. Fuller did say “I would not want to raise these taxes,” referring to local property taxes.

The election took place in April 2007. In August 2007, just four months later, all Wichita school board members, including those mentioned above, voted to increase taxes. It didn’t take long for Kevass Harding to reverse his position. It didn’t take long for Barb Fuller to overcome her dislike for raising taxes. Power has a way of doing these things.

In February 2008, all members except Jeff Davis approved the idea of a $350 million bond issue, asking voters to decide the issue. There is no doubt, however, what position the board members take on the necessity of the bond issue and its tax increase. And before you get the impression that Mr. Davis was overtaken by a sudden wave of wisdom regarding tax increases, he voted no only because he felt his district wasn’t slated to get enough. He later changed his vote.