January 26, 2012

Part of northeast Wichita would stay boundary-free in new schools plan

Students in a predominantly African-American area of northeast Wichita would continue to be assigned to seven different high schools and various middle schools, according to a new boundary plan presented to an advisory group Thursday night.

Students in a predominantly African-American area of northeast Wichita would continue to be assigned to seven different high schools and various middle schools, according to a new boundary plan presented to an advisory group Thursday night.

The area, known as the “assigned attendance area,” is roughly bounded by Kellogg, Washington, 29th North and Oliver. It would continue to be a boundary-free portion of the district, according to the new plan.

A previous proposal had students in that area attending three high schools – East, North and Northwest. The new plan would assign students to various schools based on their address, regardless of race, as they are now.

Consultants said the change was in response to community concerns about busing portions of the district across the city to Wilbur Middle School and Northwest High School.

The newest boundary plan also suggests:

•  Closing four elementary schools – Bryant, Emerson, Lincoln and Mueller, as previously proposed.
•  Opening a new school under construction at 143rd East and Pawnee as a K-8 instead of an elementary. Its boundary roughly would be areas east of Webb Road and south of Douglas. Students who attend Seltzer Elementary would attend the southeast K-8 for middle school.
•  Relocating Isely Traditional Magnet Elementary to a new school under construction near 53rd North and Woodlawn in Bel Aire, and making it a neighborhood magnet.
•  Relocating Mueller’s aerospace and engineering magnet program to the Isely building, 2500 E. 18th St., which opened in October as part of the 2008 bond issue.
•  Shifting the proposed boundary lines for several elementary schools: Cessna, Earhart, Enterprise, Irving, L’Ouverture, McLean, Ortiz and Woodland.
•  And shifting several proposed middle school boundaries: portions of Coleman to the new southeast K-8, portions of Robinson to Coleman, part of Mead to Jardine, portions of Hamilton to Hadley and Truesdell, and part of Curtis to Robinson.

The new proposal still would shutter Northeast Magnet High School, 1847 N. Chautauqua, and transfer the program to a new high school under construction at 53rd North and Rock Road.

Superintendent John Allison told members of an advisory group Thursday night that leaving the new high school vacant for a year or more, as some in the community had suggested, could cost the district up to $32 million in additional bond interest.

Allison said the school was financed primarily through qualified federal bonds, which come with stipulations.

“If we do not use that school for an educational purpose, the federal subsidy would be void and we would be responsible for picking up those interest payments,” Allison said. “So there’s potential for a significant penalty.”

Wichita is having to redraw attendance boundaries to prepare for the opening of five new schools this fall. Allison said unexpected reductions in state per-pupil funding means the district will have to close some smaller, less efficient schools in order to open ones being built as part of a $370 million bond issue.

Several parents from schools slated to close watched a video feed of Thursday night’s meeting in the North High School lecture hall. Seconds after consultants said the new plan recommended the same four schools to close, the screen went black and parents scrambled for more information.

Officials soon had the video feed running again, but parents weren’t pleased with the news.

“I really thought something was going to happen,” said Jocelyn Goerzen, who lives across the street from Bryant and has children at Emerson.

“This is about our schools, our communities, our neighborhoods, our kids,” she said. “Once they do this, what’s next? Who are they going to close the next time they need to cut the budget?”

Allison and officials with RSP & Associates, a consulting firm hired by the district, ended the advisory group’s final meeting by asking members to review the newest plan. Then they asked a single question:

Can you live with this?

“If this is the supposal that the board works from, can you live with it?” Allison said. “And if not, what is it in here that is the hill to die on? … What is it that makes it unlivable?”

Members had several minutes to discuss and record suggestions, which weren’t shared with reporters.

Maps and highlights of the fourth-draft proposals for elementary, middle and high schools were expected to be on the district’s website following the meeting. To see them, visit

Allison will present a draft recommendation to school board members at a special meeting Feb. 6. The board plans to vote on a boundary plan Feb. 27, and the new boundaries would go into effect next school year.

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