Mark McCormick’s Wichita School Bond Challenge: The Inside Story

Recently Wichita Eagle columnist Mark McCormick challenged Helen Cochran, spokesperson for Citizens for Better Education, a citizen group opposed to the proposed Wichita school bond issue, to answer a few questions. In Sunday’s column he presented Cochran’s answers.

I spoke to Ms. Cochran and exchanged a few email messages, and I asked her a few questions about McCormick’s column. Here’s what I learned:

Q. Helen, how much interaction did you have with Mark McCormick during this process?

A. I spoke with Mr. McCormick on the phone probably seven or eight times. I had hoped to interact with him face to face but he was unable to do so.

Q. I read the position paper that’s available on the Citizens for Better Education website. Do you think McCormick’s column fairly and accurately represented the information in your paper?

A. Mr. McCormick was only interested in covering what I deem to be the “emotional” issues of the proposal. Those are the only questions he formally and publicly posed to our group. And yes, I think, considering space constraints, he accurately represented our response. I was a bit disappointed that he chose to parenthetically counter our points with USD 259’s claims that many suggestions weren’t feasible such as nudging boundaries. They are not feasible because the district does not want to make them feasible. Boundaries will be nudged when, and if, new schools are built.

Q. In his column where McCormick presented your response, he countered many of your points using information from the Wichita school district. Do you think the school district be used as the authoritative source for all matters relating to the bond issue?

A. Absolutely not! What about a newspaper conducting its own investigation and research? I do believe in miracles. To McCormick’s credit I think he, too, believes that academic achievement and drop out rates are the number one priorities. My hope was to provide him with enough information and data to question the district’s existing propaganda.

Q. Do you think that McCormick understands the issues surrounding this bond? I ask because in his column Open letter to Citizens for Better Education he talks about “students at eight or nine schools would have to be displaced in a falling-domino fashion” then immediately talks about busing kids across town. Do things like this give you cause to question his understanding of the issues?

A. Once we interacted I think McCormick realized that we (CBE) were responsible people and not against everything. I hope a relationship for the betterment of the children in our community comes out of this. And that McCormick will begin to question some of these “critical needs” in his own mind.

Q. Do you think that McCormick holds citizen groups like yours to a high standard that he doesn’t hold the school district to?

A. Yes, to a much higher standard as far as being specific to alternatives.

Q. McCormick has termed bond issue opponents the “naysayers.” Does this describe you and your group? Are you in fact one of the “standard-bearers of this cynicism” as he has called you?

A. I suggest that anyone unwilling to explore cost effective alternatives is the real naysayer! CBE does not believe bricks and mortar will buy higher test scores, lessen dropout rates or affect the academic performance of our children. And those are, in our estimation, what the district should be focusing on as well as any opportunity that gives children and their parents a choice in how best to educate their children.

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