In a historic vote in January 2008, the Wichita school board chose to end the practice of busing elementary children – mostly African-American students from central-northeast Wichita – across town for school integration.
Winston Brooks, superintendent at the time, said that for the plan to work, aging schools in the so-called “assigned attendance area” would need improvements.
“To make our point that we really are sincere about investment in the AAA (assigned attendance area), we’re going to have to take some money that might be generated in a bond issue and make some of those upgrades,” Brooks told the board in 2008. “Without a bond issue that’s going to be a lot more difficult.”
Later that year, Wichita voters approved a record-setting $370 million bond issue. Those funds, combined with monies from a $284.5 million bond issue approved eight years earlier, have resulted in eight new, expanded or remodeled schools in the assigned attendance area.
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“The board looked at … How do we guarantee and make sure that we have equitable facilities in the AAA area?” Superintendent John Allison told Wichita school board members last month.
“As we look at that critical need, that was addressed.”
Since 2000, the district has built or replaced four schools – Gordon Parks, Spaght, Washington and Mueller (formerly Isely) – in the assigned attendance area, an area bounded roughly by Murdock, 29th Street North, Hillside and Ohio.
Four others – Adams, Buckner, L’Ouverture and Brooks – have been significantly remodeled or are under construction. Over the past decade, the district has added more than 100 classrooms and eight libraries and multipurpose rooms to schools in the area.
Betty Arnold, the board member whose district overlaps the area from which African-American students once were bused away from neighborhood elementary schools, said the plan to end busing for integration hinged on those improvements.
“I am very proud to be a part of the board that made sure that all those schools within District 1 were up to par,” Arnold said. “It wasn’t a matter of choosing to go back to neighborhood schools that are old and decrepit.”
One school, Spaght Multimedia Magnet Elementary, near 11th and Grove, originally was slated to get about $6 million worth of improvements. But bond consultants said a new one could be built for less than $1 million more, so the board approved a $6.9 million contract to build the new Spaght.
The 64,000-square-foot school, which opened last year, features a music room, art room, computer lab, expanded library, cafeteria and a gymnasium that doubles as a storm shelter. The old building was demolished to make room for parking and playground space.
The new school also has a television studio and control room to support Spaght’s multimedia magnet theme. The new classrooms have smart boards, bookshelves and closets with more storage space.
Principal Kim Sherfield said the new school is “a huge improvement” for students, staff and the community.
Wichita school officials still are dealing with unanswered questions and unfinished bond issue projects in northeast Wichita and elsewhere.
Fifteen projects, including a new high school in southeast Wichita, are on hold while the district deals with losses in capital outlay and per-pupil funding from the state and in millions of federal dollars for storm shelters.
And despite approving new attendance boundaries last spring, secondary students in the assigned attendance area still are bused to seven different high schools and 10 middle schools – a holdover from the district’s system of busing for integration.
Even so, Allison told the board that the bond money invested into the central-northeast Wichita area thus far shows the district’s commitment to making facilities modern and equitable.
“I’d say we’ve made a significant step in meeting that critical need,” he said. “A real effort and focus to not only look at the equity, but what was the quality of instructional space in those areas.”