More than five years after a $370 million bond issue vote to build and renovate Wichita schools, a $10 million technical magnet high school program is the school board’s last piece of unfinished business.
It likely won’t be built – at least not the way it was first envisioned, district leaders say.
“That whole process has been evolving, and so we have had to evolve with it,” said school board member Lynn Rogers. “I don’t think the straight $10 million program added onto a high school is really the best thing anymore.”
In 2008, the night the board voted to put the bond issue on the November election ballot, it also voted to insert $17 million worth of technical education projects – $10 million to start a tech ed magnet school and $1 million toward tech ed projects at each of the city’s seven comprehensive high schools.
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Bond managers say the district has spent at least that much – and likely more – building or remodeling classroom spaces for career and technical education programs.
Schools have gotten state-of-the-art commercial kitchens for culinary arts programs, engineering labs, digital media production studios, modern business classrooms and child care centers that double as training grounds for students studying early childhood education.
Kenton Cox of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey said he is compiling a report that catalogs all tech ed projects built as part of the 2008 bond issue and will present it to district officials in coming weeks.
“It’s not as easy as it sounds, because it’s all locked up” in other projects, Cox said. “We don’t separate that out and say, ‘OK, this is the amount of money for tech ed.’
“It’s kind of like the mushrooms in the ragu sauce,” he said. “It’s in there, but somebody needs to count how many there are.”
Jim Means, the district’s director of career and technical education, said the technical education magnet school – first envisioned as an aviation-training program – was “never really well developed.”
Bond supporters who drafted the proposal said they envisioned an aviation program for about 400 students housed in a separate wing of a high school. Martin Libhart, interim superintendent at the time, said the $10 million would be put before voters as an “earmark” for technical education, but without all the details spelled out.
In 2012, state lawmakers passed the Career and Technical Education Initiative, which provides state funding to pay college tuition for high school students earning college credits in technical courses and working toward an industry credential. Means said that measure and other changes in the way tech ed is delivered means a freestanding tech ed high school magnet doesn’t make sense for the district anymore.
“What makes sense for us, as a K-12 system, is to develop programs that don’t duplicate other programs out there and that our students can access easily” from any base high school, Means said.
On a recent day at West High School, students in Katie Geringer’s baking and pastry class made strawberry cream scones in the school’s new culinary lab.
Before its bond issue overhaul, Geringer’s classroom was a 1950s-style home economics class, with seven kitchenettes and very little workspace. Now the room looks more like a restaurant kitchen, with commercial-grade gas ranges, stainless steel work surfaces, industrial mixers, triple sinks, a bread proofer and more.
“It’s better than last year’s,” said Yadira Hernandez, a sophomore. “We’ve got more space, and you just feel like you’re a real chef and not just in a regular kitchen.”
Students in an upper-level Culinary Applications class complete catering assignments out of the kitchen, and “it works great,” Geringer said.
Such projects are expensive, said Cox, the bond manager, which is why the tab for technical education projects has far exceeded the $1 million-per-school allocation and likely the $10 million as well.
Plans for a new Southeast High School at 127th Street East and Pawnee will include “significant” technical education program space as well, said superintendent John Allison.
“There’s quite a bit of exciting discussion ongoing about what we want there as we think about the next 25, 50 years,” Allison told board members recently. “What are the needs from an employment standpoint, flexibility as we move forward, interest by our students – all those factors coming together.”
Board member Sheril Logan said the district needs to be upfront about investments in technical education programs, particularly because many voters may remember the $10 million magnet program earmark.
“Part of what we promised was the tech piece, so we need to make that visible to our public – how we put that in there, so it doesn’t look like we just canceled and didn’t do anything with it,” Logan said.
“Which I know is not true, but it just needs to be way more visible than it is now.”