Wichita school board hopefuls field questions

Jeff Davis
Jeff Davis File photo

Three applicants for a vacant seat on the Wichita school board answered questions Friday evening about diversity, board relations, community concerns and the district’s plan for the future.

Board members interviewed the applicants during a special meeting at North High School. They are expected to discuss their findings and appoint a new board member Monday.

Jeff Davis, who served on the school board for about a decade, resigned earlier this month because he and his wife recently moved out of the district. He represented District 4, which includes portions of south and southwest Wichita. Davis’ term expires in January 2020.

Stan Reeser, Tonya Riepe and Joshua Blick submitted applications and letters of reference by a Thursday deadline to seek the seat.

Board president Mike Rodee said videos of the three interviews will be posted on the district’s website over the weekend, and encouraged members of the public to share their input with board members.

“We don’t make this kind of appointment very often,” said board member Lynn Rogers. “I see really strong candidates, and I think any of the three would serve our board and our community very well.”

Blick, 40, ran unsuccessfully for the Wichita City Council in 2011 and 2013. In 2015, he lost to Davis in the race for the District 4 school board seat.

“I see this position not as a stepping stone. … I see this as more of a pinnacle, as the ultimate position,” Blick said Friday. “I see it as what can we do to … build a stronger community.”

Blick touted his experience as president of the Southwest Neighborhood Association, as well as his involvement on the site council and booster club at West High School. He worked with former board member Jeff Davis to lobby the Wichita City Council to build a crosswalk near the school, he said.

Blick said a Wichita teacher alerted him to issues with his son, who subsequently was diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Now he has a parent’s perspective on the need for special education resources, he said.

He said the board’s appointment of Alicia Thompson as superintendent was a wise move.

“I see the relationship the superintendent has with the board, and it’s probably the best one in the state of Kansas,” he said. “It looks like you are a family.”

Stan Reeser, 55, was a Wichita City Council member from 1991 to 1995. Last year, he ran as a Democrat for the District 97 seat in the Kansas House and lost to Les Osterman.

Reeser said his knowledge of budget issues and experience on the city council and transit advisory board would allow him to “hit the ground running” as a new board member. But he views the school board differently than city council.

“I do not see this as a political job. I see this as a community service job,” he said. “You have to set an example that you can work together as a team so that you can show the rest of the school district and show the schoolchildren how things can be done in a civil way.”

Referring to a recent incident in which two board members did not say why they voted against a slate of agenda items, Reeser said he would always explain his votes.

“Not in a way to cause trouble,” he said. “But if I’m going to vote, the public does have a right to understand why you voted that way.”

Reeser said the district’s diversity is “a drawing card” and should be celebrated.

“Not everyone wants to live in the suburbs where everybody drives the same kind of car and has the exact same kind of lawn,” he said. “If you want your child to learn in a diverse situation and celebrate diversity, Wichita public schools is the place to come.”

Riepe, 34, a technical educator at Exploration Place, said her perspective as a mother of young children would benefit the board. Her two children attend Buckner Elementary School, a performing arts and science magnet.

She emphasized her experience working on science and technology programs with a variety of community groups, including the Boys & Girls Club and Make ICT.

Riepe said she would defer to Thompson, the superintendent, on most matters of education and district operations.

“She is out there in the trenches with the kids and the teachers every day,” she said. “Her decisions and her thoughts are something very valuable that we should listen to.”

Asked about challenges the district faces in the community, Riepe said parents don’t like the early start times at some schools. Last year, the Wichita district trimmed 15 days from the school year and made school days longer to save about $3 million on transportation, utilities and other costs.

“The middle schools and high schools are extremely early,” Riepe said. “But not knowing how that affects the budget exactly, it … could be a hard thing to cross.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias