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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wichita parents plead with school board to save their schools

By Suzanne Perez Tobias
The Wichita Eagle

Parents held signs, displayed banners, shared photographs and pleaded their cases to Wichita school board members Monday in hopes of keeping schools they love from closing.

“We are distraught,” said Deborah Harris, the mother of a fourth-grader with special needs who attends Bryant Core Knowledge Magnet Elementary.

“Please don’t take what is familiar to him away and force him into … a situation that would be very traumatic for him.”

A tentative plan to overhaul Wichita’s school attendance boundaries would close four elementary schools – Bryant, Emerson, Lincoln and Mueller – as a cost-cutting measure.

It would move the Northeast Magnet High School program to a new school being built in Bel Aire. And it would relocate Mueller’s aerospace and engineering magnet program to a new K-8 building near 53rd Street North and Woodlawn, which would open as a K-5 elementary instead.

All four schools on the suggested closures list were represented by parents and others in the audience at Monday night’s board meeting.

“This seems like a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” said Donald Cain, the father of a Bryant student.

“Consultants … only look at numbers and statistics. … Not everything that counts can be counted.”

Kyron Cox, representing the Wichita State University chapter of the NAACP, challenged the proposed closure of two schools – Mueller and Northeast Magnet – in the near-northeast part of the city.

When the district ended busing for desegregation in 2008, students in that predominantly African-American area were told they could continue to be bused to faraway schools or attend their neighborhood schools.

“The promise and opportunity for that choice is in danger of being revoked,” Cox said. “If the district starts closing neighborhood schools, how will we have that choice?”

Parents from Bryant noted that the school recently was expanded and remodeled to serve children with severe disabilities. A father from Lincoln said many of the school’s low-income parents would no longer be able to walk to school if it closed and would have a hard time staying involved in their children’s activities.

Those from Emerson praised the school’s 130-year history and its intimate, family atmosphere.

“Sending our children elsewhere is not an option,” Charity Chapman said. “No other school is like Emerson.”

Board members reminded speakers that boundary plans are just drafts, not final proposals, and encouraged them to attend a series of public meetings that begins Wednesday.

Board member Lynn Rogers encouraged parents to lobby state lawmakers to increase funding for schools. Over the past few years, the Wichita district has lost more than $50 million in funding, he said.

“If we want small, neighborhood schools, we have to be willing to pay for them,” he said.

New health clinics

Also on Monday, board members approved a proposal by GraceMed Health Clinic to open two more satellite clinics at Wichita elementary schools.

The plan calls for new clinics at Dodge Literacy Magnet, 4801 W. Second St., and Cloud Elementary, 1212 W. 25th St. North.

The clinics, which provide free or low-cost medical services to underserved areas, would be similar to ones operating at Lincoln Elementary and Gordon Parks Academy.

According to the proposal, each clinic would cost $850,000. GraceMed would pay for construction costs and operate both clinics.

Construction on the Dodge clinic will start in February or March, and construction on the Cloud clinic could start in July.

The clinics are “a win-win for our community,” said board member Sheril Logan, because they operate at no cost to the district.

“When kids have teeth that hurt or are sick, they don’t do a very good job in the classroom,” Rogers said. “This gives them access to medical care that they might not normally have.”

It was unclear Monday what would happen to the GraceMed clinic at Lincoln Elementary if that school closes. Denise Wren, director of operations, said the clinic is in a portable structure and could be relocated to another school in the area.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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