Wichita Public School District: Taxation Without Information is the Policy

Taxation without information. I wish I could take credit for inventing this phrase that I recently heard someone use. It captures very well the key characteristic of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, and its campaign for the proposed 2008 bond issue. This school district resists providing information that will help journalists and citizens hold the district accountable. Until the district changes its attitude towards accountability, the citizens of Wichita should not invest in an expensive bond issue.

The district does release a lot of information, of course. Whether it is useful in making a decision about the proposed bond issue is up to each voter to decide. Sometimes these facts have been expressed unclearly. This was the case when I and a number of journalists used an incorrect figure for the cost of the safe rooms. The district issued a clarification, so now we have the correct information -– maybe.

Other needed clarifications, however, are not easy to obtain. The number of classrooms at each school, the subject of one records request, is an example. It seems that people intuitively understand the number of classrooms. They reason like this: “For school A, the district may estimate an enrollment of B students. The goal for class size is C students per class. Currently school A has D number of classrooms. So let’s do the arithmetic and see if school A needs more classrooms.”

Is it as simple as this, or is the situation more complicated? Doesn’t the district go through a process similar to this when it figures how many teachers are needed at each school?

More importantly, since overcrowding is given as one reasons why the Wichita school district needs a bond issue, shouldn’t facts and figures like these be known by the district, readily available, and shouldn’t the public be able to see them?

Similarly, the district and it supporting citizen group have made claims like “studies show that ______.” But when asked to cite the name of the study or to provide a reference to it, you might have to wait nine days, despite assurances that the information was forthcoming soon. That has been my experience on more than one occasion. The conclusion we can draw is that the Wichita school district makes claims that it has no evidence for. When questioned, they have to look for it.

The Wichita school district’s attitude towards the public is demonstrated by this: As related in In Wichita, Don’t Take Photographs of the School Administration Building! a citizen, standing on a public sidewalk taking a photograph of the Wichita school district administration building, was ordered by a district security guard to stop.

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