Artificial turf meets Wichita public schools board

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)

Elementary School

O.T. (Occupational Therapy) and P.T. and Speech Therapy, Nurses, Counselors, Child Study Team, Visually Impaired — Specialized Programs, Magnet Schools, Playgrounds, Latch Key

Middle School

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

High School

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!

My comments:

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.

19 Comments

  • Anonymous -

    Great post. Whoever you are, keep fighting the good fight.

  • This was an awesome post. I’m so glad you attended and did what you did. I can only imagine how uncomfortable the educrats were being asked where they work and not having someone respond. We need more citizens to do just what you did. THANK YOU!

  • Anonymous -

    You people are truly “delusional” just like the speaker last night at Southeast stated.

    You seem to think you can continue risking the future of our children, society and nation based on a faulty economic principle and policy. Trickle down economics didn’t work when Reagan start the rape of the middle class in the 80’s and still does not work today.

    You people are more the enemies of the American people and nation than Al-Queda and Osama bin Laden.

  • I am in absolute agreement that it is (historically) not wise to raise taxes, including a sales tax, during an economic recession. Such is not only taught in good college economic courses, but it can also be easily ascertained by a simple deductive process.
    When people lose their jobs (and Wichita has high unemployment right now), the unemployed have a dramatically-reduced income. Their discretionary spending gets reduced. If the income reduction is high enough, they will often sell their homes to move to places out of the city/county to where their new jobs are located. So, on three fronts, KS state revenues from taxation on personal income, real estate property, personal property, and consumer spending GET DRAMATICALLY REDUCED. Let’s take it further…
    Higher sales taxes (imposed on consumer spending) force people to spend less for consumables because they are paying the same budgeted amount on less goods to pay the additional sales tax. Lower sales on consumables means less income for the consumer item business. Less business income means they have less to meet the coming payroll, forcing the business to layoff X number of employees. It is a never-ending cycle that hurts the middle and lower income families all around.

    So, instead of suing the state and getting nothing done in the end, schools just need to figure out what the educational essentials are, what can be sacrificed to meet a lower budget, & carry out the cuts. Do in the school systems what we must do in our households during tough times!

  • Carolyn Marie Fugit -

    You know, Wendy, you really were insulting to people’s intelligence. Asking us if we took an economics class? Based on what I see here, you didn’t like it too much when those who did take economics or currently teach it told you that you were incorrect. On another note, do you believe parents who are also teachers shouldn’t be allowed to speak out on their children’s education? As it was mentioned last night, USD 259 is the third largest employer in Wichita. Do you support laying off more employees, causing the unemployment rate to continue to rise? You seem to be fine with unemployment so long as you can ignore it.

    I saw many parents there who knew specifics about programs because they had educated themselves. Some came with lists from their site council meetings while others had seen programs listed in the Wichita Eagle. Others were involved in programs and saw the benefit they provided to children. And these parents did not appreciate your attempt to lecture them as is evident by the many times they applauded when commenters opposed your statement. While I saw some well-dressed people in attendance, I saw far more people who were not well-dressed. But I guess you see only what you want to see.

    The people that attended Southeast’s meeting last night care greatly about their children’s education. In addition to the one cent sales tax increase, many people who commented offered to help pay fees for underprivileged students and inquired about creating foundations at schools for people to pay into in order to support the school. Yet you chose not to mention this at all. Seems you just want to rail against those who value education more than their pocketbooks.

    Mr. Weeks thinks this blog is balanced and is upset links to it are not included when discussing school budget. This post highlights why this blog is far from balanced.

  • These school district employees are planning to use FORCE to take the earnings of other members of the community and give it to themselves.

    This is clear from what board member Dietz stated; the salaries of district employees will not be cut, not even an across the board small percentage.

    District employees will not feel the pain like a commoner will. So why shouldn’t they favor a 1% sales tax increase?

    Isn’t this a conflict of interest? Isn’t it wrong to take more money from those who are having their incomes cut — i.e. the commoners — using the salary the commoners are forced to pay you?

    These state employees who are paid by the commoners can use the salaries the commoners are forced to pay them to fund their further raids on the commoners.

    The commoners have no defense. Isn’t this a case of Sheriff John stealing from the poor to give to the rich?

    Does anyone see a Conflict of Interest by these Royal Thugs who’ve insulated themselves from feeling the economic recession felt by the commoners?

    They want more money from an already poorer public?

    Where’s the Magna Carta for the commoners?

  • Anonymous -

    Anne: That’s why the “commoner” formed a “union”. You should look into it.

  • Anonymous -

    I completely agree with: Anonymous March 2, 2010 at 11:26 am. Excellent post in response to the diarrhea of ignorance on this page.
    You people are truly “delusional” just like the speaker last night at Southeast stated.

    You seem to think you can continue risking the future of our children, society and nation based on a faulty economic principle and policy. Trickle down economics didn’t work when Reagan start the rape of the middle class in the 80’s and still does not work today.

    You people are more the enemies of the American people and nation than Al-Queda and Osama bin Laden.

  • Is there a parrot on this website?

    Oh that’s right. Liberals (read Totalitarians) are parrots who can’t think for themselves. That’s why they keep re-posting the same stuff.

    And yes, I do think it’s a conflict of interest for these Unions to use force to take more & more money away from people who are already paying their salaries & suffering hurt economically. They will always vote themselves a raise on the backs of the taxpayers who have no choice, and they use the pitiful earnings of the struggling small fry to fund their comfortable lifestyles.

    And then, when the poor get poorer the unions brandish force again and tax the people out the yin-yang just to support their own selfish unwillingness to cut their own pay a bit.

    All the while yelling that the poor taxpayer “doesn’t care about the children.”

  • Hi, I don’t suppose that USD 259 will be stupid enough to ask for input again? I might skip league night for that kind of “professional entertainment”.

    Mike

  • Anonymous -

    OK, calm down. Believe it….there is compromise in the air.
    Even a former Union Rep now on the school board can see it.

  • Wichitator -

    West High School held an event the same night. Former teacher union rep Barb Fuller who presides over the school board and board member Lanora Nolan were there along with the school superintendent John Allison.

    The process and procedure for the West Highs School event was identical with the description at SE High School. Certain topics seemed to be off limits. I heard no description about the money the school district spends on lawyers, their lawsuit over school finance (I believe that they could save somewhere between $200k-to-$300k annually), lobbying at the statehouse, travel spending, non classroom employees, or anything that was outside of the defined discussion parameters. Defining areas for reduced spending was not on the agenda. Telling legislators to find more $ was the top priority.

    The discussion about 4 day a week teaching seemed to be a trial balloon to see if it would scare the relatively smaller number of parents in attendance. Most of the school district employees, who seemed to make up the largest segment of the audience, seemed to like that idea. I think that these folks would like their current salary with a four day work week. The only savings would be in reduced utility costs if the classrooms only get used four days a week. However, I didn’t hear any real discussion about trying to reduce utility costs at WHS’ event.

    There were a significant number of students attending this event. Many were JROTC participants who seemed to be worried about their program being cut or reduced. There were also students talking about music and the arts programs too. Everyone had an opportunity to get papers filled with pictures, contact information, and a list of Kansas legislators from Sedgwick County.

  • kimpot54 -

    Great discussion! The original post was fantastic! Let me say, that as someone who has attended these controlled meetings: They are a farce. They are an exercise in Group Think. There is no dissent allowed. I am amazed the original poster was able to cause as much trouble as she did. Within the hierarchy of the Wichita Public Schools, there is no true change allowed. Thinking outside the box is the equivalent of blasphemy (w/o the religion, of course). That being said, when board members talk about cutting programs, they give the impression that music, for example, would have to be cut across the board. UNTRUE! Principals actually have some control over how their school budgets are spent. So, if some middle and high schools have strong music programs, they can fund them. Others schools w/o well-attended music programs, might choose to cut them. But in order to give the impression the sky is falling, the district does not share that info with the public. (As I referred to before, this is all very well orchestrated and controlled.) AND, I’m not sure the district would allow some schools to keep music while others cut it, because that would be creating a situation where parents would want to choose to send their children to a particular school. NO SCHOOL CHOICE ALLOWED, unless of course, the district controls it . Unfortunately, it’s just a fact that the debate over K-12 education has become so polarized that the only real change we have any hope of seeing will come in a financial crisis–like the one we have right now (everybody pray). Charter schools, which are public schools, and private/parochial schools can do a better job for our kids and cost the taxpayer less money. We currently fund too much bureaucracy that has no direct impact on the classroom. These people can cheerlead about how much they care about kids, but in the end, the system is now much more about preservation of jobs for adults than educating kids.

  • KipSchroeder -

    So many great posts here it is hard to decide where to begin. First and foremost, I’m very proud of the individual who created the original report from the SE High event. I appreciate your courage and am disappointed that I wasn’t there to support you. Thank you for speaking for so many of us! I didn’t hear any mention of cuts to USD259’s administrative staff. Anyone care to guess how many marketing positions USD259 has? Why would a monopoly need to market their offerings? In corporate America we first cut those employees who don’t directly impact customers. Why would we not consider similar measures in our public schools? If you’re not specifically training a child I would advocate that your position is in question. Let’s return these capable individuals back to the private sector where they can once again contribute to the state economy through meaningful production. Please keep up the great fight!

  • A few years ago I realized that Diane Gjerstad, the school district’s lobbyist, was housed in the marketing department. Like Kip, I wondered why a monopoly needs to market its product.

    Then I realized the target of the district’s marketing: the legislature and the governor.

  • Anonymous -

    Applause to you whoever you are!!!! Would have liked to have been there!

  • Anonymous -

    Not only is this a right wing site…… posts are regularly deleted if they do not appeal to this sites agenda.

  • In the past two years I’ve deleted a handful of comments, either because they used foul language not appropriate for a family forum, or because they attacked other people in inappropriate ways.

    I don’t delete comments because they disagree with me, or because they insult me, or not even if they’re based on incorrect facts, as is the charge that I delete comments because “they do no appeal to this sites [sic] agenda.”

    You can find plenty of insulting comments directed at me that I haven’t deleted.

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