Wichita Superintendent John Allison ended his presentation on unfinished bond issue projects Monday with a question mark:
“Questions? Direction for moving forward?”
School board members had plenty of both – mostly questions – and peppered Allison with requests for more data, enrollment projections and other information they said they need before deciding how to move forward with what’s left of a $370 million bond issue, including a new high school at 127th Street East and Pawnee.
Earlier in the meeting, two people addressed the board about the possibility of closing or “repurposing” Southeast High School and relocating its students to a new, larger high school in the far southeast quadrant of the district.
“Since 1957, Southeast High School has been the cornerstone of the neighborhood surrounding the school” at Lincoln and Edgemoor, Mike Garvey told the board.
“I ask that you please tell people why you are wanting to move the high school. … This will decimate the neighborhood, and I ask that you stop your plans to move Southeast.”
Dave Robbins, president of the Fabrique Neighborhood Association near Southeast High, also asked the board not to vacate the school.
“If you take a high school out of this area, I think you’ll devastate the whole area,” he said. “Please, do no harm.”
Board president Lynn Rogers said “no decision has been made to move any schools or do anything of that nature.”
“We’re in the beginning stages,” Rogers told Garvey. “Many of the questions you have are questions we have, and I’m sure we’ll be addressing those.”
Of the original bond issue, about $71 million is unspent, Allison told the board. Fifteen projects remain unfinished.
Remaining bond funds “allow us to be able to meet what was set forth in the bond plan from a bricks-and-mortar standpoint,” Allison said.
But long-term operating costs are a concern, he added. So are construction costs, which have gone up considerably since voters approved the bond issue in 2008.
“It’s very important that we remember the cost of delaying decisions as we discuss some of these projects,” Allison said.
Board members asked Allison to come back next week with specifics on a number of topics, including enrollment projections, estimated costs for acquiring land near Southeast High and busing costs if Southeast was relocated to the far corner of the district.
Board member Jeff Davis asked how the proposed new high school, planned for 800 to 1,200 students, could serve the more than 1,600 students currently attending Southeast High.
“The assumption is, if we did move students we would have to enlarge the new high school,” Rogers said. “And what would those costs be?”
Most important, “we would not want to move Southeast and leave Southeast empty,” Rogers added.
Also on Monday, the board voted 7-0 to send a letter to state lawmakers voicing concerns about several items of pending legislation, including changes to at-risk funding, a proposed constitutional amendment on school funding, moving school board races, limiting teacher negotiation and prohibiting public funds for lobbying.