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Bel Aire residents will offer alternative to Wichita school boundary plan

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, at 4:56 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, March 11, 2013, at 1:48 p.m.

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Bel Aire schools meeting

Bel Aire residents will hold a second community meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday to further discuss a response to the Wichita school boundary proposal. The meeting will be at Bel Aire City Hall, 7651 E. Central Park Ave.

A group of Bel Aire parents and residents upset about the Wichita district’s tentative attendance boundary plans for two new schools in their area have come up with two proposals that they say are a meet-in-the-middle compromise.

The group plans to launch an e-mail campaign this week that would make school board members and other decision makers aware of their wishes.

On Saturday morning, the group of about 30 – which included Bel Air parents, residents and city leaders – met at the Bel Aire City Hall to outline their concerns.

By the end of the meeting, they decided that they’d be more likely to be heard if they focused on solutions rather than complaints.

The group, led by city manager Ty Lasher, focused most of its attention on a proposal that calls for closing Northeast Magnet High School and moving its magnet program to a $31 million high school being built in Bel Aire. Under the proposal, Bel Aire high schoolers could attend the school, but only if they applied and were accepted through the district’s magnet program.

The group’s first proposal: Turn the new high school into a neighborhood magnet, allowing Bel Aire students the first spots before opening enrollment to magnet students.

Those at the meeting said that when they voted for a $370 million bond issue that was approved in 2008, they believed that the two new schools would serve their neighborhoods. The bond issue resulted in five schools set to open this fall, including the high school at 5550 N. Lycee and an elementary school at 53rd Street North and Woodlawn.

The current high school proposal cheats everyone from developers who’ve started building homes near the school to neighborhood association members who pooled their own money and built sidewalks connecting their neighborhoods to the schools, members of the group said.

“It would be a shame if our kids in Bel Aire could not go to the school right in our neighborhood,” said Ramona Becker, who doesn’t have children in the district but said that Bel Air’s growth and economic health depend on having neighborhood schools as a selling point.

Lasher told the group that he’d invited all the school board members to attend the meeting. He heard back from three, who thanked him for the invitation but said they had other commitments.

Superintendent John Allison, who was not at the meeting, has said that relocating the magnet program rather than opening a traditional, comprehensive high school would save the district $10 million to $12 million a year, needed because the district has lost more than $50 million in state funding since 2008.

If the most recent plan is approved, children from Bel Aire would attend the new northeast elementary, Stucky Middle School and Heights High. High school students also could apply to Northeast Magnet.

Although the Bel Aire group approves of the current proposal for the elementary school, which would make it a neighborhood magnet that accepted neighborhood students first, they said they didn’t like the cost-saving measure that would make the school a K-5 building rather than the K-8 building originally planned.

Their proposal: Accept the school as K-5 with the commitment to add sixth grade next year, seventh grade the following year and eighth grade the year after that.

The group will draft its plan and begin an e-mail blitz this week, looking for more community supporters who will also e-mail decision makers. They’ll also meet again at the Bel Aire city hall at 10 a.m. next Saturday, and they hope more people will attend.

Sending a united message might be the community’s best hope, Lasher told the group.

“There’s nothing that everyone’s going to like,” he said. “But if we can get a piece of something that everyone likes, that’s a good thing.”

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