Random thoughts from a Wichita school board meeting

I attended the meeting of the USD 259, the Wichita public school district, board on August 11, 2008. The proposed bond issue for 2008 was a big part of this meeting.

There were many speakers from the audience at this meeting. Almost all were employees of USD 259 or parents of students. Most said so, proudly in most cases, as they introduced themselves. To me, the fact that the swim team coach at a high school is in favor of building a swimming pool at that school is not remarkable, to say the least. It’s also not a very persuasive argument from a public policy perspective. That so many of the speakers went out of their way to emphasize their close relationship with the school district highlights the nature of the proposed Wichita school bond issue: it’s all about special interests.

Many of the speakers, especially the board members, emphasize “kids, kids, kids. It’s all about the kids.” Let’s hope that it really is all about the education of Wichita’s children. That’s because Kansas has a very weak charter school law, and no school choice at all through programs such as vouchers or tax credits. The public school districts in Kansas have a near absolute monopoly on the use of public tax dollars in education. So parents in Wichita have to hope against hope that the Wichita public schools do a good job. Many of these parents have no other choice.

I keep wondering why the district didn’t build more safe rooms as part of the bond issue in 2000. Evidently air conditioning was more important than safety.

Many of the board members mention class size reduction as important. It’s one of the important reasons given for the need for the bond issue. If you’re a parent, smaller classes sound great for your children. And if you’re a teacher, smaller classes mean a smaller workload, so it’s great for them. But class size reduction is very expensive. Not only must new facilities be built, paid for by the proposed bond issue. But there are ongoing costs that bond issue supporters don’t mention very often: a permanent increase in the number of employees, more space that must be lighted, heated, and cooled, and more building space that must be maintained.

Then, does class size reduction work to increase student achievement? That’s what the taxpayers of the district need to know. Answers to this can be found in this article: Focus on Class Size in Wichita Leads to Misspent Resources.

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