Wichitan to lead state school-funding commission

07/18/2014 12:48 PM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

A Wichita businessman was elected chairman of a special commission that will study the effectiveness of school funding.

By a vote of 7-1 on Friday, the commission in its first meeting chose Sam Williams as chair over former Sen. John Vratil.

Williams, who has previously chaired the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, was named to the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission by Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita. He retired from the Wichita-based advertising firm Sullivan, Higdon & Sink, where he was a managing partner, last month.

Williams was nominated to the post by Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute. Trabert lamented that the commission, which was formed by H.B. 2506, has been politicized in the media. Trabert’s own appointment by House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, was condemned by the Kansas National Education Association.

Trabert nominated Williams in the hopes that he would be a chair that would rise above the political debate.

Wagle sought guidance from the Wichita school district in choosing her two appointees, Williams and Ken Thiessen, principal of Wichita East High School. The Wichita Metro Chamber already has a consulting partnership with the school district, which Wagle wanted to build upon.

“We’re really pleased that we have a Wichitan chairing this commission,” said Diane Gjerstad, a spokeswoman for the school district, who attended the meeting. “We’ve worked with him many times in the past. And he’s had six children who have attended Wichita public schools. I think it’s good for our community to have Sam at the table as chair.”

The commission’s purpose is to find ways to more effectively spend state dollars on schools in ways that maximize student learning. It was created through legislation meant to address a Supreme Court decision in March that called for more equitable funding between districts and laid out criteria for a still unanswered question about the adequacy of school funding.

Williams told The Eagle in June that his goal as a businessman on the commission is to ensure schools are producing a world-class workforce in Wichita and in the state.

He noted when introducing himself at Friday’s meeting that one of his children was a special-needs student, giving him additional perspective.

The commission selected Jim Hinson, superintendent of the Shawnee Mission School District, as vice chair.

Trabert, who also nominated Hinson, said it was important from the public’s perspective to have an educator in a leadership role.

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