At a school board meeting in August, USD 259, the Wichita public school district, gave itself a big pat on the back for an award it received for its efforts in educating the public about the school bond issue last year.
I thought it quite ironic that the district received such an award, much less that the district would spend any time or effort applying for it. That’s because the communications practice of the Wichita school district, at least from the experience of citizens who want to investigate district claims, is dreadful. In particular, the practices of the district regarding its website and the material the district chooses to deliver through it need examination.
Then there was interim superintendent Martin Libhart’s insistence that the district does know how many classrooms it has. But that information was never provided.
During the bond campaign the district made various claims about the need for the bond issue. But when citizens asked for the underlying evidence, it took a long time for the district’s communications office to provide it. Rogers at one time advised using Google to find the basis for the district’s claims. This doesn’t seem characteristic of a school district that received a communications award.
Furthermore, the Wichita school district doesn’t even get little things right. In the online agendas for school board meetings, links to supplemental document files are provided. These documents usually hold detailed information about an agenda item.
These documents, however, are quickly removed, usually the day after the board meeting. Yet information that most citizens would deem non-essential is hosted for long periods on USD 259’s site.
As an example, currently the USD 259 website holds a video of the groundbreaking of a construction project. This video file is 2,575 KB in size. The event took place on June 16, but I don’t know when the video was placed on the USD 259 website. But it’s there today.
Compare the treatment of that video document to something that’s important: The treasury warrants (that’s a fancy term for the checks the district writes) for August 2009 is a 23 page pdf document that is 51 Kb in size. This is an example of the type of document that’s quickly removed after each board meeting.
The video is 50 times the size of the warrants document.
Board member Rogers told the Flint Hills Center that the reason for removing documents like the warrants is lack of space on the district’s servers.
This gives an indication as to the priorities of the Wichita school district’s communications: a trivial video is retained, but there’s not room for truly informational documents that are a small fraction in size.