Wichita school board members voted Monday to sell the former Metro-Meridian Alternative High School, adding a clause to the contract that prohibits the buyer from operating it as a publicly funded school.
Board member Joy Eakins opposed the move and voted against the contract, saying that limiting competition is “negative for our community.”
“There is nothing wrong with competition in education,” Eakins said. “There are great examples where different public schools have used competition … in order to bring innovation. It builds community spirit, it improves education, and it improves efficiency. And businesses do this all the time and live and die by it.
There is nothing wrong with competition in education.
Joy Eakins, Wichita school board member
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“So even if we’ve had a bad experience with competition in the past, which I understand we have, it doesn’t mean all competition is negative,” she said.
The board, by a 6-1 vote, approved the sale of Metro-Meridian to Erik and Bree Maybee for $275,000.
The couple has not revealed many details about their plans for the school at Maple and Meridian, but Bree Maybee said they plan to redevelop it as a residential property.
Monday’s debate dealt with a paragraph in the contract that says the property could not be used or operated “as a school for grades K-12 if any source of funding for the school’s operations at any time derives from public funds (tax dollars) or if donors to the school qualify for the receipt of tax credits for such donations.”
That clause was not part of the Wichita district’s last property deal in 2013, when Christian Faith Centre paid $40,000 for the former Mueller Elementary School, near 24th and Estelle.
In 2014, the church launched Urban Preparatory Academy, a private school serving kindergarten through fifth grade. That school has benefited from a new state program that awards tax credits on corporate donations to private-school scholarships.
Board member Lynn Rogers said he supported the additional contract restriction because schools typically are appraised higher than other properties and that the district should try whenever possible to return property to the tax rolls.
“I don’t think we want to use our tax dollars and basically help someone else start a school that would compete against us,” he said. “Not just for the competing, but for the best use of our tax dollars.
“Here’s a way to … get some kind of return for our taxpayers.”
Here’s a way to … get some kind of return for our taxpayers.
Lynn Rogers, Wichita school board member
Superintendent John Allison said his staff added the language to the proposed contract “as a response to questions and comments” from board members after the Mueller sale.
The former Metro-Meridian, which closed last year, is one of five vacant buildings the district put up for sale last month.
Rogers said he would consider offers from people who want to turn the old buildings into schools, but they should have to pay more for the properties.
“We’re not afraid of competition. We’ve sold schools to the Catholic Diocese and others,” he said. “But again, it’s an honest way to have this in the contract. … There are certain limitations to what they can do there.”
Eakins voted against the deal.
“This is bad for Wichita, bad for children, and I can’t support contracts with that kind of language,” she said.