Wichita school leaders on Monday approved a new contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that could mark the official end of mandatory busing for integration — more than four years after the district stopped the practice.
Board member Connie Dietz shared memories of her own experiences as a teacher at L’Ouverture Elementary School when mandatory busing began in 1971.
“This has been a long time coming, and this district is not the same district that it was in 1971,” Dietz said.
“I truly believe that in every solitary one of our schools today, a student can have a quality education. I could not have said that in 1971. It was not a true statement. Today I believe it is a true statement.”
According to the new agreement the district will submit its plan — approved by the school board with a historic vote in January 2008 — to end crosstown busing for most students. Within six months of receiving the plan in writing, the federal agency is required to tell the district whether it is released from its voluntary busing agreement.
The plan that took effect in the 2008-09 school year says the district’s extensive network of magnet schools and special programs — which draw students from different geographic areas — guarantee school choice, diversity and equity across the district.
Superintendent John Allison said the new agreement is “a positive step” for the district.
“It gives us some type of ability to know that we have a process and a timeline. … It continues to confirm the district’s commitment to choice, to providing rich educational options for all of our students, and that is absolutely foundational.”
Betty Arnold, the board member whose district overlaps the area from which African-American students once were bused away from neighborhood schools, said a key element of the new plan was upgrading, replacing or expanding several schools in the area as part of the past two bond issues.
Over the past decade the district has renovated or rebuilt eight schools in the area, adding more than 100 classrooms, libraries and multipurpose rooms.
“I am very proud to be a part of the board that made sure that all those schools within District 1 were up to par,” Arnold said. “It wasn’t a matter of choosing to go back to neighborhood schools that are old and decrepit.”
In other action Monday, board members approved a plan to auction the former Mueller Elementary building, near 24th Street North and Hillside. The school closed this year as part of new attendance boundaries and cost-cutting measures.
The action was approved 4-0 without discussion.
Board members also approved a $3.5 million bond issue project for Pleasant Valley Elementary School, 2000 W. 29th St. North. The school will get a new multipurpose room that doubles as a storm shelter, renovated classrooms, a secure entryway and a new mechanical system. The work should be complete by December 2013, officials said.