School named for Latino educator

The Wichita school board named its newest elementary school after a nationally recognized leader in Latino education and passed its new budget Monday night.

The Martin Ortiz Elementary School is set to open for the 2012-13 school year at 33rd North and Arkansas.

Ortiz dropped out of high school in Wichita at age 13, when a teacher pinned a sign that said "retarded" on him for his inability to speak English.

He returned at age 16 and was the first Latino student body president at Wichita's North High School.

Ortiz, who graduated from North in 1940, founded the Center of Mexican American Affairs at Whittier College in California in 1968 to encourage Latinos to attend college. He was known at Whittier as "El Jefe" (the boss), and several of the center's events are known as "The Ortiz Programs."

About two dozen of Ortiz's friends and family members attended Monday's meeting. Ortiz died in 2009. His wife, Linda, teaches in the Los Angeles public schools, said board member Lynn Rogers.

"We really start off a school with a tremendous asset and legacy for education," said superintendent John Allison.

In other business, board members passed a $631 million budget for the coming year — $10 million higher than the one proposed for the 2009-10 school year.

But board president Connie Dietz warned that the budget could face cuts after the year starts if state funds are slashed.

"We'll probably have to revisit this in two months," Dietz said.

The board also unanimously approved nearly $18 million in improvements to Heights High School, including new athletic and fine arts facilities and renovation of the library.