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District 5 candidates seek to bring fresh ideas to Wichita school board

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, March 23, 2013, at 9:41 p.m.

The candidates competing for the Wichita school board District 5 seat say they hope to bring a new face and fresh perspective to a district whose leaders have spent the past several years dealing with budget challenges.

Three men are vying to replace Lanora Nolan, a board member since 2001, who decided not to seek re-election. They will meet in the April 2 general election, which is a districtwide vote.

District 5 covers much of west Wichita.

School board members serve four-year terms and receive no pay for twice-monthly meetings and other work. They oversee a $628 million budget and set policy for the state’s largest school district, with more than 50,000 students. Members elected in April will take office July 1.

John D. Crane

John D. Crane, 56, a retired police officer, works as a security officer at Wesley Medical Center. He and his wife, Debbie, have three grown children who graduated from Wichita schools.

Crane worked 10 years as a school resource officer at Northwest High School and four years as a drug and violence prevention specialist for the district. His position was eliminated during budget cuts in 2010.

He said that experience gave him valuable insight into Wichita schools.

“I got to hear from principals and see teachers in action and … see the way the system is operating,” Crane said.

He said the district is “on the forefront of safety issues” but should reconsider arming its security officers, as many suburban districts do. Currently the only people allowed to carry firearms are school resource officers – trained police officers stationed in the high schools.

“We live in a day and age when maybe it’s time to think that through again and arm our security,” he said.

Crane said he also would work to maintain and improve services to students with special needs. Two of his three children have physical and mental disabilities, he said, and attended special education centers as well as neighborhood schools.

“Over the years, money has gradually disappeared for some of those things, and … I want to see them continue to be supported.”

Crane said he thinks Wichita has too many administrators and spends too much on busing students to magnet and other schools. He favors re-evaluating what the district spends on transportation, including any additional costs that might occur if Southeast High is moved to the far corner of the district.

“Magnet schools are a choice that parents make. Maybe more of them could transport their students to school,” he said.

Peter Grant

Peter Grant, 56, is a table games dealer for the Kansas Star Casino. He and his wife, Carol, have two sons, one of whom graduated from Northwest High and one who is a junior at East.

Grant has run unsuccessfully for the board three times. In 2007, he lost an at-large race to former board member Kevass Harding. In 2009, he lost the District 5 race to Nolan, and in 2011, he did not advance past the primary for the at-large seat held by Sheril Logan.

Grant said he decided to run again because “I’m persistent. I’m a glutton for punishment. … But I want to do something to help the district, to show people I care.”

Grant said the board has not made good on several promises made in the 2008 bond issue, including opening a new comprehensive high school in Bel Aire. Leaders also misled patrons by closing five school buildings as part of new attendance boundaries, he said.

“That high school in Bel Aire was supposed to alleviate crowding at Heights (High),” he said. “They made a promise to people – ‘Vote for it, and we’ll help you out’ – and then all of a sudden they changed it.”

He said the district should not build a new high school at Pawnee and 127th Street East if it cannot fulfill its pledge to expand and renovate Southeast High at Lincoln and Edgemoor.

“Why not just re-do Southeast?” he said. “It will cost them less money and keep the people happy. … But before they do anything, they should talk to people on both sides and see what the people want.”

Grant said the district could cut spending by not filling job openings for high-level administrators and nonteaching personnel. The district also should consider selling its administration building in downtown Wichita and consolidating offices at the School Service Center on North Hydraulic or elsewhere, he said.

“They need to save money whenever and wherever possible, but they need to cut spending without affecting the integrity of the education or the safety of the schools,” he said.

Mike Rodee

Mike Rodee, 57, owns and operates South Central Sealing and Paving in Wichita. He and his wife, Liz, have three children who graduated from Wichita schools.

He said he decided to run for the board because he wants to stay involved with schools now that his children are grown.

Rodee has served on school site councils and school-based bond issue planning groups and with booster clubs at Northwest High that worked to maintain athletic and fine arts programs that were threatened by budget cuts.

He said Superintendent John Allison and the board are “handling things well with the bond issue.”

“It would have been nice if we could have the bond issue and built everything at one time, but that happened to coincide with a lot of (financial) difficulties, and I think they handled it as well as they could,” he said.

He said his experience as a business owner would inform his actions on the board.

“In business you have to not only look at budgets. You also have to look ahead and say, ‘Where do we need to be in six years? Where do we need to be in 10 years? What’s going to change?’ ” Rodee said.

School districts across the state face budget challenges that are largely out of their control, he said, because of mandates and funding decisions at the state and federal levels.

“I can’t see how they’re doing that, and they’re not wanting our input,” he said.

Rodee said he doesn’t yet have enough information to say how he would vote on some of the specific issues facing the board, such as how to incorporate new Common Core Standards and whether to expand or relocate Southeast High.

“I don’t know because I don’t know what the people want and how it affects both the district and the end user,” he said. “I think we need to listen to the community and … then take that information and explore the opportunities.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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