Many a groggy kid with bedhead would beg to differ, but the calendar says it’s Aug. 14 and time for the 50,000 students of Wichita’s USD 259 to get to class. So begins a 2013-14 school year of life-shaping opportunities and uncommon challenges.
One in the latter category already confronted the district Monday, as a three-alarm fire caused an estimated $400,000 in damage at College Hill Elementary School.
It’s too bad that the school’s celebration of its completed $1.2 million bond project now will have to wait for more construction. But what matters most is that nobody was hurt and the district had a contingency plan ready to go; College Hill students will start classes Monday at the former Bryant Elementary School, 4702 W. Ninth.
In both this case and the 2004 explosion at Marshall Middle School, the district has proved itself skilled at coping quickly with unexpected disruptions in ways that put students’ learning first.
Wednesday stands out as the first school day since the school board voted in June to close Southeast High School and build a new $54 million Southeast High at 127th Street East and Pawnee to open in 2016. The board was making the best of a bad situation in trying to complete the 2008 bond issue after $60 million in state funding cuts in recent years.
Despite the state’s squeeze on base aid per pupil and other funding streams, the Wichita board was able to approve a $639 million budget Monday that boosts spending by $11 million, increases teacher salaries 1 percent, and anticipates 300 more students and 136 more employees without raising the property-tax rate.
Between now and the last day of school May 22, USD 259 and other Kansas districts will need to watch out for Topeka. Their students’ fortunes are tied to the Kansas Supreme Court’s pending response to a three-judge panel’s ruling that the state funding of K-12 schools is unconstitutionally low – and to however the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback answer the high court’s decision. More changes loom as the State Department of Education works to align reading and math tests to the Common Core educational standards, and as some state lawmakers fight Kansas’ use of the multistate standards.
In the meantime, area drivers need to slow down in school zones, heed school-bus stop signs and otherwise look out for students.
A new school year also signals a renewed need for tutors, mentors and other volunteers. To help, inquire at a neighborhood school or call Karen Blucher at Communities in Schools of Wichita/Sedgwick County, 316-973-5167, or call Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sedgwick County (which does school-based as well as community-based mentoring), 316-263-3300.
And let the learning begin.