Safe Rooms a Priority in Wichita School Bond Issue

Update: The architect for the Wichita school district has disputed the amounts referenced in this article.

The proposed USD 259 (Wichita public school district) bond issue in 2008 contains a provision to spend about $15 million to build 60 safe rooms in schools. These new rooms will be in addition to the 38 safe rooms already in place. Safe rooms provide the function of a storm shelter, something very good to have in tornado-prone Kansas.

It is a noble goal that USD 259 would seek to provide all Wichita schoolchildren with safe storm shelters. For this reason bond issue supporters already have, and will no doubt continue to, promoted the bond issue as necessary for the safety of our city’s children.

But instead of congratulating USD 259 officials for their willingness to provide for the safety of children, we should ask these questions:

Why have children have gone to school in Wichita for so long without these vital shelters?

USD 259 has a capital budget of about $35 million per year. $15 million is required to build safe rooms. That’s less than half the capital budget for one year. Why doesn’t USD 259 use these funds to build these important safe rooms?

Or, as someone asked me: since loss of life is more important than comfort, why weren’t these safe rooms added to the schools instead of air conditioning as part of the bond issue in 2000?

KWCH television reported that USD 259 has no plan for providing these safe rooms if the bond issue doesn’t pass. Do Wichita school district officials seriously intend to continue their practice of placing the children of Wichita at risk if the bond issue doesn’t pass, or is this just a tactic they are using to induce voters — through misplaced guilt — to approve the bond issue?

Underlying this is the fact that unless a family can afford private or religious school tuition, or unless a parent has the resources and means to provide homeschooling, their children must, by law, attend Wichita public schools that do not have adequate storm shelters.

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