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Wichita School Bond Issue: The Election That Wasn’t, and Maybe Shouldn’t Be

Wichitans for Effective Education wish to remind the residents of USD 259 (the Wichita, Kansas public school district) that on February 11, 2008, the board of USD 259 passed a resolution declaring that a special election was to be held today, May 6. That resolution asked the citizens of this community to approve a $350 million school bond proposal. On April 7, on the advice of an allied citizens group, the board decided the election should be delayed until some yet-to-be-known date.

The board originally argued that it was imperative to vote as soon as possible instead of waiting for the August primary or November general elections, even though the special election would cost $75,000. As evidence, Chief Operations Officer (now interim superintendent) Martin Libhart delivered to the board on January 28 a presentation titled “Time Is Money” which explained that if the bond issue election were delayed until November, the cost of building just one high school would increase by $360,000 -– far more than the cost of the special election.

The district also argued that if the election were delayed until August or later, the opening of the new high school would be delayed by one full school year.

Nevertheless, on April 7, the board abandoned these arguments.

Much effort went into preparation for the May special election. News outlets devoted extensive coverage. Three citizens groups formed to campaign for and against the bond issue. Expenses were incurred.

Opposition groups have had to deal with a shifting landscape of facts emerging from USD 259. We relied on figures supplied by USD 259 regarding the costs of building safe rooms, only to be told we didn’t understand the true situation. We relied on figures published by USD 259 in its most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report reporting school capacity and enrollment, only to be told those numbers are out-of-date.

Sometimes getting any information from USD 259 is difficult. We asked for a count of classrooms and portables for the last two school years and were told that information is available at a cost of $860, with most of that cost paying for 40 hours of staff time. Since school overcrowding is one of the reasons given by USD 259 as the need for this bond issue, we wonder why these figures are not readily available.

The changing schedule of the bond issue election as well as the unreliable facts provided by USD 259 make it difficult to thoughtfully consider the merits of any proposal at this time. With the possibility of looming economic recession and the lack of a permanent superintendent in place to lead the Wichita schools, perhaps the best idea yet is to pull the question altogether. This would give the district time to research and locate all significant data, and then both opposing and supporting groups could base their decisions on accurate and timely information.

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