Wichita school bond contributors: self-interest gone wild


The campaign finance report filed by Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education (CARE), reporting on the campaign in favor of the bond issue to benefit USD 259, the Wichita public school district, contains information that should be of interest to Wichitans. (To download and read the report, visit this article: Wichita School Bond Finance Report Omits a Big Contribution.)

For example, Kenton Cox of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture contributed $13,800 in cash to CARE, and that firm made an in-kind contribution of $15,380, reported by the Wichita Eagle to be donated signs.

Why would an architecture firm have such an intense interest in Wichita public schools? Why would Kenton Cox be concerned, given that he doesn’t even live in USD 259? Here’s a possible answer: the minutes of the December 8 meeting of the board report that Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture was awarded a contract for plan management services for the bond issue. The value of this contract, as reported by the Wichita Eagle, is one percent of the value of the bond issue, or $3.7 million. This firm will undoubtedly earn millions more for those projects on which it serves as architect.

Was this lucrative contract put up for bid? Was any other firm considered? Was there ever any doubt that Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture’s contributions to the bond issue campaign would be returned multiplied many-fold?

(The board meeting minutes report that a summary of the agreement for plan management services is available in the appendix to the agenda. Just three weeks later, however, that material is no longer available on USD 259’s website. That’s a problem of a different kind with USD 259.)

Then, what about all the other architect firms that contributed many thousands to the CARE campaign? Civic involvement or self-interest — hoping to be sent a few crumbs in the form of design contracts that Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture decides not to keep for itself?

For the construction and engineering companies that contributed many thousands, the same questions apply.

One analysis finds that 72% of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, was given by contractors, architects, engineering firms and others who directly stand to benefit from the new construction.

Campaign finance reports for the groups that opposed the bond issue will show that real estate developers and owners contributed heavily to these campaigns. It’s likely that the Wichita Eagle — Rhonda Holman, probably — will editorialize about greedy developers, only wanting to increase their profits on the backs of schoolchildren.

These developers, however, are looking out for two things: First, it’s really their tenants that pay the increased property taxes that the school bond will impose. Then, in turn, anyone who eats in these restaurants, or shops at these stores, or rents these apartments, will pay more. The misinformation that USD 259 and CARE spread — that the bond issue costs just a dollar a week for a typical homeowner — didn’t acknowledge these costs.

Second, the property tax environment in Wichita and Kansas is such that development is discouraged. Some projects, as reported in the Wichita Eagle, have been canceled. What’s not seen by the news media and Wichitans are the projects that aren’t proposed or considered because of our high — and about to be made higher — property taxes. We’ll never see or hear about these.

When considering who are the greedy and self-interested parties, look at the CARE campaign finance report and the education bureaucracy in charge of the Wichita public schools. Their names are there.


5 responses to “Wichita school bond contributors: self-interest gone wild”

  1. Benjamin

    Is anyone suprised by this?? I’m not! You could thrown dump trucks full of money at Wichita public schools and you would still have the same results. I figured Wichita was safe from the corrupt crap that goes on in Washington D.C………proven wrong. Sad.

  2. Cybex

    The school board is elected by the citizens. If the citizens want change stop electing the incompetent lawmakers. Run for public office yourself if you don’t like what is going on, or support someone who believes as you do. Stop complaining!

  3. Legend


    I agree with you on some issues, especially open government. I believe open government is essential and critical to build the public trust. I also think groups who supported and opposed the bond issue should have released their campaign donor lists during the campaign.

    I understand that groups such as yours did not have to release the donor lists until December 31. However, as someone who promotes openness in government I do find it somewhat hypocritical that your group did not release its donor list during the campaign. I believe not only do we need open government, but we also need open campaigns as well. The public needs to know who is financing any group that supports or opposes a particular issue.

    Bob, as someone who has repeatedly criticized local units of government for a lack of openness, don’t you think your ground should have released its donor list during the campaign?

  4. Bob Weeks

    I think that people could come to agreement that there should be disclosure of the contributions before these elections, just like there is for contributions to candidates.

    But there’s a difference between open government and open campaigns. People making campaign contributions are exercising free speech, which is protected by the constitution. This is actually a point in favor of no contribution limits and disclosure.

    But open government is different. Government has no rights in the same way that citizens have the right to free speech.

    So I think it’s really two unrelated issues.

  5. Legend

    I don’t quite agree both are completely unrelated. You make some good points about the differences between campaigns and government, but I do think your group should have released its donor list during the campaign.

    Citizens should have the right to know who is supporting and opposing any issue and why. To be fair, the supporters should have done the same. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

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