Tag Archives: Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey

Who Runs the Wichita School Bond Issue Campaign?

As reported in the Wichita Eagle in May, the co-leaders of Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education (CARE) knew very little of the details of a telephone survey their group conducted to discover Wichitans’ attitudes towards a school bond issue. That they knew so little gives the citizens of Wichita cause to question who is in charge of running the bond issue campaign.

Records requests made by this writer reveal that there is no contract in place between USD 259 (the Wichita public school district) and Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture covering the proposed bond issue in 2008. This raises a few questions:

First, has USD 259 effectively outsourced the promotion of a bond issue to an outside firm without a contract governing the relationship? It’s possible that Kansas law prevents them from writing such a contract. But if the bond issue is so important, it seems that the school district would want a formal relationship with the firm outsourcing its political work.

Second, if Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture is not being paid to promote the bond issue, why are they working so hard at it? Is it a sense of civic duty, or the prospect of large contracts following a successful bond issue campaign?

The relationship between the board of USD 259 and CARE is curious. Board members are full of effusive praise for the work that CARE has done. Perhaps when I am curious as to where to find USD 259 test scores, or if I want to know how USD 259 defines a violent act for statistical purposes, I should funnel the request for information through CARE. As detailed in my post For Wichita Public Schools, Even Simple Information Requests Seem a Problem, it can be difficult for an average citizen like me to obtain information from USD 259.

It’s hard to understand why the board of USD 259 has so much praise for and confidence in the work in CARE. In her article CARE Dropped Ball on Educating About Wichita School Bond Issue, Helen Cochran reveals the poor job CARE has done in its educational mission. This is the second time around for CARE, as Helen reminds us. Does CARE dare ask for a third chance?

The school district is fond of reminding us that “At the request of the Wichita Board of Education, more than 1,500 citizens assembled in fall 2007 to evaluate remaining critical needs, share their vision for Wichita’s public schools, and develop a strategic Facilities Master Plan which will support the continued growth and vitality of Wichita’s schools.” Aren’t any of these people available to help, or even attend educational meetings on a summer evening? (This passage is from a booklet on the USD 259 website that still promotes a May 6, 2008 election.)

Reporting in the Wichita Eagle indicates that the board is not likely to make a decision tonight about when to hold a bond issue election. Given this board’s record of calling for elections and changing the calendar when things aren’t going their way, we shouldn’t place much stock in whatever this board decides.

CARE Dropped Ball on Educating About Wichita School Bond Issue

My friend Helen Cochran of Citizens for Better Education contributes this article, which appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

In this article, Helen analyzes the work of Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education, a group that supports the Wichita school bond issue. As Helen notes, attendance at the four educational meetings CARE held was low. In one meeting, the only two people in attendance who weren’t either school district personnel, Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture employees (the school district’s architect), or associated with CARE were associated with Wichitans For Effective Education, a group opposing the bond issue. So at this meeting, there were effectively no members of the general public attending.

It is truly a puzzle as to why the attendance at these meetings was so low. Especially when Randy Thon, co-leader of CARE, mentioned that some 1,500 people participated in the formulation of the bond issue plan. On a personal level, I spoke to Mr. Thon after the first meeting and expressed some sympathy that so few people attended the meeting. I don’t think he thought I was serious, or that it even mattered at all.

On April 7, the Wichita school board postponed a scheduled May 6 special election for a proposed $350 million school bond at the behest of a volunteer bond-support group. Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education argued that more time was needed to “educate the public” regarding the bond specifics and therefore a postponement was warranted. The board concurred, despite earlier arguing that postponing the vote would add tens of thousands of dollars to construction costs.

It was concluded that CARE would educate the community and return to the board with a bond recommendation. Prior to hosting four community meetings this summer, CARE commissioned a telephone survey in early June to gauge public sentiment and asked such questions as the age and political party affiliation of the responder as well as questions with regard to the size of the bond and other proposal specifics. The results of the survey have not been made public.

Fewer than 50 citizens attended the four educational community meetings. Perhaps people did not attend because they already had made up their minds as to how they would vote. Perhaps people were busy with summertime activities. Or perhaps people felt that because opponents were denied a voice when the bond postponement was suggested to the board, any opposing viewpoint would not be welcomed at these community forums. As the summer meetings failed to attract the public, neither the school board nor the volunteer group had a backup plan to educate the public. No bulk mailing was undertaken, nor were informational telephone banks set up to reach the public. The “more time is needed” argument translated into a waste of time, as no further steps were taken.

The educational ball was dropped. CARE squandered all opportunity for credibility when it dropped that ball, leaving USD 259 board members to wallow in their indecisiveness. This is troubling because the school board has postured itself to heavily rely upon a recommendation from CARE, scheduled to be made at Monday’s school board meeting, while ignoring other community groups’ recommendations. What are CARE’s credentials to recommend this board spend millions of property owners’ dollars without having fulfilled a promise to better educate this community regarding such an expenditure? CARE may suggest a scaled-back version of the original bond, recommend the proposal be withdrawn (as suggested by some bond opponents) or encourage the board to throttle full-speed ahead for the originally proposed $350 million.

Regardless of what is presented to the board Monday night, the public should be justifiably skeptical of any recommendations made or agreed upon when attempts to educate the public were poorly conceived and executed and failed miserably.

If CARE plans to use its survey results as grounds for its recommendation, the school board should insist upon full public disclosure of those results.

Asking a community to endorse a $350 million bond issue, an issue less than $350 million or a bond issue in any amount should warrant a more conscientious and disciplined effort than what has been offered to date.

Wichita School District: Tax Rates Not Increasing, But Taxes Paid Are

According to the Wichita Eagle article School board plans no tax increase for coming year, USD 259, the Wichita public school district, does not “plan to raise property taxes” to pay for school operations next year.

Now if you read that and that alone, you might want to congratulate Wichita school officials for respecting the taxpayer.

But not so fast.

For one thing, the taxes that are under the control of USD 259 are increasing. The rate is not, but the amount collected is. That’s because property taxes increase each year as property is reappraised to a higher value, and as new property comes into existence. This increase can be high, too. From 2005 to 2006, the two most recent years I could find data at usd259.com, the total assessed value of property taxable by USD 259 increased from $2,314,710,733 to $2,428,891,164. That’s an increase of 4.9%, and even without an increase in the mill levy (the rate at which property is taxed), much more tax will be collected.

Then, it’s not like the school district’s appetite for tax increases is sated. Last August the board increase the mill levy by two mills. That brought the district to its statutory limit. It can’t increase the mill levy further without asking for voter approval. If not for that, we can be fairly sure that the board would pass another tax rate increase.

Finally, remember that this Wichita school board and its surrogates Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture and Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education are campaigning for the voters to approve a large tax increase in the form of the bond issue, which may or may not appear on a ballot soon.

Wichita Business Journal: Please Explain the Wichita School Bond Impact

In an article in the June 27, 2008 Wichita Business Journal (Passage of 2000 school bond issue highlights Brooks’ legacy in Wichita), reporter Josh Funk makes another error. (The first error is explained in Wichita Business Journal: Where is the Increasing Enrollment in Wichita Schools?)

In this case, Mr. Heck claims, in his tribute to departing USD 259 (Wichita public school district) superintendent Winston Brooks, that “He leaves Wichita before resolution of a $350 million bond issue, but his legacy as superintendent will be the passage of another bond issue — this one for $284.5 million — eight years ago that bailed out a city from a depressed post-9/11 economy while making necessary improvements to the school district.”

Mr. Heck must be relying on reporting from his own newspaper, for a few months ago it printed the article “Brooks: Bond issue possible in spring” (December 28, 2007 Wichita Business Journal) in which Brooks and Joe Johnson, head of the school district’s architectural firm Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture say that the bond issue in 2000 did, indeed, save Wichita.

This is nonsense of the highest order. Government spending cannot create prosperity. Borrowing against future tax revenue only compounds the problem. See Wichita School Bond Issue Economic Fallacy.

The Wichita Eagle let its guest columnist make the same mistake when Wichita school board member Lynn Rogers tried to make the case that the 2000 bond issue was an economic benefit to Wichita. See Wichita School Bond Issue Impact Is an Illusion for discussion.

Wichita School Bond Issue: Who Is Running the Survey?

A recent newspaper article reports on a telephone survey regarding a proposed bond issue for USD 259, the Wichita, Kansas public school district. (“Pro-bond group conducts survey,” May 22, 2008 Wichita Eagle.) The article starts as follows:

The citizen group that supports a proposed $350 million bond issue for Wichita schools is conducting a telephone survey to gauge public opinion of the bond.

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.

With the two leaders of CARE knowing so little about this survey, Wichitans are justified in wondering who is really conducting this survey. Is it the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district? Or is it Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture, the school district’s architect, and who happens to share the same street address as CARE?

Mr. Thon is also quoted in this article as follows: “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. I might remind Mr. Thon that on February 11, 2008, the Wichita school board called for a special election to be held on May 6 so that voters could express their support — or not — for the bond issue. So there has already been a “first time” for this bond issue. That “first time” was postponed at the request of Mr. Thon’s organization.

Wichita school bond issue economic fallacy

A recent article in the Wichita Business Journal (December 28, 2007) about USD 259, the Wichita public school district, bond issues contained this passage:

“The economic benefit was fantastic,” says Joe Johnson, a partner at Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey, who was on the 2006 steering committee. “No one predicted the downturn, but this community got tremendous value from the bond issue.”

There was also this passage concerning Wichita Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks:

There is a misconception, Brooks says, that the bond issue was a drain on the economy. Actually, he says, the bond issue had a positive economic impact on Wichita.

“I think we did bail out this community with the bond issue,” Brooks says. “… Often times when you hear the district talk about bond issues, it’s ‘Here they come again. It’s going to kill the economy.’ The fact of the matter is that’s not what happened last time.

“That bond issue helped the economy.”

I have no doubt that the school bond issue in 2000 was a tremendous benefit to Mr. Johnson’s firm. I’m sure Superintendent Brooks, in some way that I don’t understand, benefited from the bond issue, too.

As to the rest of the community, however, the benefit claimed by these two men doesn’t exist. It never existed. It is only a fantasy flowing from an economic fallacy. It comes from being so focused on one’s own self that nothing else matters, and is therefore not seen or considered. As explained by Henry Hazlitt in his book Economics in One Lesson:

This [fallacy] is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.

Consider: If the bond issue in 2000 had not passed and people in Wichita kept the tax money that goes to retiring the bonds (and the future payments yet to be made), what do you suppose they would have done with that money? Wouldn’t it be possible that they would have spent and invested it, and that spending and investing would have provided economic benefit to our community too?

I am reminded of another passage from Economics in One Lesson regarding a bridge to be built:

Therefore for every public job created by the bridge project a private job has been destroyed somewhere else. We can see the men employed on the bridge. We can watch them at work. The employment argument of the government spenders becomes vivid, and probably for most people convincing.

But there are other things that we do not see, because, alas, they have never been permitted to come into existence. They are the jobs destroyed by the $1,000,000 taken from the taxpayers. All that has happened, at best, is that there has been a diversion of jobs because of the project.

It is as simple as that. Every dollar taken by taxes is a dollar that isn’t spent somewhere else, with the attendant loss of economic activity. When we hear arguments about how much a new school bond issue will benefit Wichita’s economy, remember this.