Here’s a citizen-contributed report from one of last night’s meeting of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, with the public seeking ideas on how to deal with a budget shortfall. There were two meetings, one at Southeast High School, and one at West High School. This is a report from someone who attended the meeting at Southeast. “Artficial turf” or “Astroturfing” refers to a political tactic where an established and organized political group — say the Wichita school spending lobby — creates a false impression of grassroots concern and interest in an issue.
As I pulled into the parking lot I was shocked. Nearly the entire student lot was full — with nice vehicles. The last meeting I attended attracted only 15 people. This one was clearly abnormally popular. School personnel were lining the hallways greeting attendees cheerfully. At the table we were given handouts listing all the State Legislators representing the territory of the Wichita School District — both House and Senate, including their photographs, email addresses, phone numbers, names of schools within their district boundaries, information on how to contact them in Topeka, how to address them, a full color printout of charts showing USD 259 source of funds, and impact of another cut on per-pupil funding level (listing only the state monies of course and making it look like we are about to drive off a cliff and nose-dive into the ground — what a graph!), a bright green colored paper giving us steps to do to contact our Legislators in both the House and Senate, what to say, how to say it, and then that we discuss this with our neighbors, other parents, and family members and encourage strong schools because they are the foundation for a strong Wichita. Encourage other parents, friends and family members to join our advocacy work, and also a yellow paper listing all the schools in the district and their addresses, and another white piece of paper to fill out telling what we value in the Elementary School program, the Middle School program, the High School Program, and Other Programs and services, plus a place to supply our name, address, email, phone number, and school.
Loaded down with printed paper (which the school must have spent a lot of money on) we started in the Auditorium and were then herded to “small group meetings” conducted by district personnel in various rooms of the school. Here we were told to tell them what we valued most in each of the sectors of the school district, while one employee wrote the items with a magic marker on a Giant paper tablet, and the other employee acted as cheerleader, constantly goading us to think of “More, More” and ever “MORE” that we valued. Page after page trying to think of all the wonderful programs of the school district. I looked around the huge oversized, spacious, impeccably decorated library where we sat and saw group after group with their 2 district employees and their giant tablets.
Here’s our group’s complete list, starting from the first thing named regarding the District’s Elementary School Program:
(NOTE: I threw in a mention of the important free condom distribution and the digital clocks, since they’d already brought up the child care centers for the teenage parents)
O.T. (Occupational Therapy) and P.T. and Speech Therapy, Nurses, Counselors, Child Study Team, Visually Impaired — Specialized Programs, Magnet Schools, Playgrounds, Latch Key
Music and Performing Arts, Foreign Language, Counselors, Social Workers, Athletics (both in school and extra-curricular), Band, Art and Technology, JROTC, pre-IB, S.R.O.s (School Resource Officers), Alternative Facilities (like Wells), Para-educators, Special Education, Busing (one man commented that out of 40 buses 3/4 of them have one or two kids on them), Availability of Computers, Technology, Administrators. Clerical, National Academic League (N.A.L.), Science Olympiad, Artificial Turf, Speakers / Presenters, Custodians, Elective Courses,
Lunchrooms, Free Breakfast, Free Lunch
Music and Performing Arts, Special Ed, Sports Programs, Photography, Drivers Ed for Regular and Special Ed Students, College Prep Coursework, Classes to teach them how to write Resumes and fill out applications for Scholarships, Choice to be on a Career track (like at Northeast you can either be in the Law Program or Visual Arts Program), Alternative Schools and Programs, Volunteer Programs for parents, grandparents, Field Trips, JROTC, Child Development Centers in High School, Classes for Unwed Mothers and Unwed Fathers, Parenting Classes, Free Condom Distribution, Nurses, Art, Circle of Friends, Sex Ed Programs, Classes that teach them to budget their money, Finance, Economics, Civics (I said Constitution of the United States, but she wrote down “Civics”), C.B.I. (Community-based Involvement), Student-rights Clubs and Extracurricular Activities, The Big Do (like at East High School), General Clubs, digital clocks because people can’t read analogue clocks, small class size, Open and Honest Communication, Parent Assist, Diversity, Foreign Languages, Free/reduced Lunches, Parent/Teacher Resources,
Environmental Safety, Facilities Maintenance, Global Warming, Parent/Teacher Resource Center, Food Services, Print (is that where we get our books that are delivered to us?), Grounds Maintenance, Instructional Coaches, Parent Involvement, Peer Consultants, Watchdog Dads (at Minneha School the dads come in and say “I grew up this way”), Security, Volunteers, Time clocks and accountability, Bigs in Schools.
The District is going to compile all this, we were told, and use it in their budget. Right. I believe that.
I couldn’t help but pick up, during this session, that, from the jargon being used and the questions of most the people in the group toward the person with the permanent marker, that I was in the midst of a pseudo-employee meeting, so I decided to conduct an unofficial poll. Aas soon as we were told to return to the auditorium, I casually asked each adult what school they worked at. Out of about 40 people there were only two who said they didn’t work for the school district, and one of these said he works for the Derby School District. Across from me sat a teacher from Minneha Elementary and her husband. School after school attendees named, and usually they reciprocated by asking me what school I worked at. Instead of answering I moved to the next person. One teacher became alarmed that I wouldn’t tell her what school I worked at. She began following me telling people “She’s asking everyone where they work, but she won’t say where she works!”
Outside the auditorium, a man approached me specifically, wearing his employee badge, both arms outstretched toward me, told me he was Eric Filippi of Southeast High and asked my name and where I worked. I guess my asking the Astroturf questions was getting on someone else’s nerves. I continued to the auditorium without providing my name.
Back in the Auditorium the three Board members directing the meeting — Connie Dietz, Betty Arnold, and Kevas Harding — told us “we aren’t looking for a cut list.” And that we must start calling our Legislators TONIGHT. When they offered mics to the floor, audience members commented or asked questions. Here they are, numbered:
1) Has the school district had done any studies on the kids now in 4th grade to see how all day kindergarten had helped them (note the biased preconceived conclusion in the question).
2) I just spent the last 45 minutes in a group that said basically “they like everything.” We need to cut $25 million. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on what we’re willing to give up vs. what we want?
3) Was the 1% sales tax for the Arena any big deal? No because we’re so excited that Elton John and Billy Joel are coming to town!
4) Regarding the 1% sales tax for the Arena — it was a tax levied during a robust economic time. How many of us took Economics in college? What happens when you raise taxes in a recession? It drags the economy down, and then the schools will be short again. Please do not ask your Legislators to raise taxes in a recession. You will lose your job. It’s the government that’s adding jobs now. Private sector jobs are shrinking. How many of you here (in the audience) work for the government? About half of the people in the audience raised their hands. I then said,”This includes the school district too.” A few more hands went up. Kevas Harding got on the mike and kept asking me if I had a question. I said I’d like the freedom to speak. The lady in the aisle who had handed me the microphone kept trying to take it back from me. I asked people to please NOT ask their legislators to raise taxes.
Now it was time for slap-down dissent. Subsequent comments:
5) I would appreciate it if you would not bring politics into my son’s education, a 1% sales tax is not going to hurt you. I’d pay a penny for my son’s education.
(This gentleman obviously didn’t realize the whole topic of the evening was politics and the board members brought politics — and tax increases– into his child’s education.)
6) Not only did I take Economics in College, but I teach Economics …
Connie Dietz “It’s real easy, give us the money, we’ll withdraw the lawsuit.” We as a school district just don’t have the same capability as the city. We can’t go charge more for parking tickets …” “We’re at 60% free or reduced lunch. So we’re really limited as to places we can go …”
7) I want to thank you for soliciting community input.
8) Can’t you just cut salaries 5%? Dietz: No. Both teachers and classified employees are represented by unions and we’d have to go back through that whole bargaining process.
9) As a first year teacher I hear fear from people about losing your jobs — you should be worried about your kids. Our kids are the future. I don’t want my program to be cut. I don’t want my intelligence insulted by being asked if I took an Economics class.
10) Chris Thompson: What programs will be cut if we have to cut programs? Betty Arnold: No we’re not there yet. These are decisions your Legislator is making. They hear a lot from a school board. If you have concerns, express those to your Legislators.
11) Sarcastic comment: “I also think it’s very important that we take Economics classes. If you (directed at me) get up here and make a statement like that, I want to know where your data comes from!”
12) As a recent college graduate I understand the correlation between Extracurricular Activities and Graduation Rate….And the purpose of public education is to create a whole well-rounded individual.
13) Are you looking at a 4 day week? Connie Dietz: “Yes.”
14) In your family when things get tough you cut out non-essentials. Why aren’t you looking at cutting? Connie Dietz: The State put a mandate on us that we have to do all our testing by computer this year, and didn’t give us any money for it. I’m not so sure anything I said was a non-essential.
15) I guess I was misled about the reason for tonight. I was here to advocate for music. I’m here for the 1% sales tax also. Connie Dietz: The studies are out there showing correlation between extracurricular (fine arts and athletics) and graduation rate.
16) I was here to advocate for Fine Arts (she’s wearing a powder-blue, hooded sweatshirt saying “EAST ACES.”) I took my children out of Maize School District and put them in East because East has a commitment to Fine Arts that Maize just doesn’t have (BIG applause from audience.)
17) I never worked for the school district. I have taught a couple college courses if you want to hold that against me … Anyone who thinks there’s scads and scads of money in the public schools to cut, “you’re relusional.”
Kevass J. Harding gave the final speech from the School Board: “… motivation to be in school. I would not have been the first generation to become not only a Bachelor’s Degree, not only a Master’s Degree, but a Doctorate Degree. If you do not know who your Legislator is … call them. We want them to hear from the public. The more you learn, the more you earn. And this gem: “To make our economy a better place, that there will never be another recession.”
As I walked out of the building I watched these well-dressed professionals in their long dress coats, their fancy footwear, and their proud swagger walking to their fine automobiles without a care in the world. 15,000 people in our community have lost their jobs, but these people with a guaranteed income, sucking the rest of us dry, haven’t a clue how tough it is out there. And so, they’re going to bleed Janey and Mikey to reward the Big Bertha wasteful 259, where there will be no salary cuts, and no program cuts, and of course the most important — artificial turf.