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Wichita school board hears final thoughts on Southeast High

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, June 17, 2013, at 10:34 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, July 2, 2014, at 8:50 p.m.

With just a week left until their final vote on the future of Southeast High School, Wichita school board members on Monday heard from an official who sees a bright future for technical education programs at the school.

“Should you make the decision to vacate that building, we are very interested in having a … dialogue with you on future opportunities,” said Tony Kinkel, president of Wichita Area Technical College.

He said several aspects of the building at 903 S. Edgemoor would benefit the college, particularly its location just south of Kellogg, along city bus routes near the heart of Wichita.

Before the meeting, several residents urged the board not to close or relocate Southeast High but instead to refurbish the school and reinvest in the surrounding neighborhood.

“Your throwaway school buildings litter our city,” said Dave Robbins, president of the Fabrique Neighborhood Association just east of Southeast High. “Now you’re ready to spend $56 million on another one.”

The board will vote June 24 on whether to renovate and expand Southeast, build a new high school at 127th Street East and Pawnee, or both. The new high school is estimated to cost $54 million.

Superintendent John Allison has said that if the board opts to build a new Southeast High, the old building could house technical education programs.

The district also could consolidate many of its downtown offices at Southeast, Allison said. That would entail moving out of two buildings: the Alvin E. Morris Administrative Center, 201 N. Water, which the district owns and has shopped to potential buyers; and the Joyce Focht Instructional Support Center, 412 S. Main, which it leases.

On Monday, Allison shared a color-coded, preliminary “footprint” of a repurposed Southeast High that showed about 100,000 square feet going to WATC programs and about 110,000 square feet to district offices. Parts of the building, such as the 900-seat auditorium, would be “shared spaces,” Allison said.

He said the district has updated its website to answer some common questions about the Southeast High options. Those can be found at bond2008.usd259.org.

If the technical college moves into Southeast, Kinkel said classes would be offered from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week.

“We fully intend, wherever we go … to have a very robust night program for working adults,” he said.

“Having you come has made me feel much more secure that we are going to have a wonderful partnership together,” said board member Sheril Logan. “This is just one more step, if we decide to go this direction.”

Should the district relocate Southeast High to a new building in the far southeast corner of the district, transportation costs could increase anywhere from $28,000 a year to $560,000 a year.

“There’s a wide range in there. … I can’t really be more exact at this stage” because officials aren’t sure how the buses would be routed, Allison said.

Some African-American leaders urged board members not to move Southeast High, saying the district should instead invest in inner-city schools. School officials have said refurbishing Southeast could cost between $16 million and $23 million.

“When bond money enters the picture, there appears to be more emphasis on moving schools and programs to areas that are more affluent,” said Sandra Rankin, education chairwoman for the Wichita branch of the NAACP.

Because the 2008 bond issue called for renovating Southeast High and building a new high school, officials would renege on their promise if they moved Southeast, she said.

“It is very difficult and demoralizing to listen to members of the community say, ‘We were deceived’ or ‘We were hoodwinked,’ ” Rankin said. “Hopefully the Southeast High School decision … will not perpetuate this feeling.”

Board member Betty Arnold cited several bond issue improvements to schools in inner-city areas, which happened despite reductions in state per-pupil funding.

“I do believe we have kept the promises that we made,” Arnold said. “We have not hoodwinked anyone.”

Also on Monday, board members considered a new policy that would ban firearms from school district buildings or district-owned vehicles. They are expected to vote on the policy next week.

The proposed policy, a response to new legislation that changed concealed-carry rules in public buildings, would clarify that Wichita schools are gun-free zones even for people with concealed-carry permits.

Tom Powell, general counsel for the district, said the measure would not change the practices at school buildings, which for years have been marked with no-gun signs, but would establish a clear policy for employees and others.

Allison said several companies that insure school districts have said they won’t insure schools that allow employees to carry concealed handguns. The district’s carrier has not announced its policy, he said.

“When we go out to bid and find coverage and get the best price, if … we allowed concealed handguns, it would very much limit our choices in carriers,” Allison said, “which will have a direct impact on how much we pay.”

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

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