Sports saved at a cost

Like the unexpected windfall of Medicaid and special-education reimbursements that made it possible, the Wichita school board’s vote Monday to save high school C-team and sophomore sports is great news for the district. Such activities keep kids connected to their school and physically active, as they teach discipline and prepare student athletes for varsity competition. Without them, dropout and obesity rates might climb.

And to their credit, superintendent John Allison and the board were able to save 28 teaching positions of the 223 proposed to be cut, including half of the middle school band and orchestra jobs marked for elimination. That will make a difference in how quickly and well kids take to instrumental music once they can study it in middle school.

But the district and its outstanding music programs will be diminished when fifth-grade orchestra becomes a thing of the past, like fourth-grade strings and fifth-grade band before it. Because playing an instrument helps a child do well in other classes, student achievement may suffer.

There also can’t help but be an impact on students when the district’s certified high school librarians are replaced with library clerks — part of a national trend fueled by the public misperception that doing research now means Googling. As Nancy Everhart, president of the American Association of School Librarians, told the Huffington Post, “Anything that is not a classroom where you have 30 kids in front of you for six, seven hours a day is probably a soft target in today’s economic times.”

Sadly, targeting cuts seems to be much of the job these days on the Wichita school board, which saw former assistant superintendent Sheril Logan and re-elected members Barb Fuller and Jeff Davis take their oaths on Monday.

As Allison warned, the board may face the same or deeper cuts next year — even as the district is building one high school, two K-8 schools and two elementary schools scheduled to open in fall 2012.

Caught in a strange bind between state base per-pupil spending cuts and the $370 million bond issue approved by local voters in 2008, the Wichita board will be faced with important decisions about how to staff the needed new buildings, or whether to defer their openings until the economy rebounds and resources ease.

Given the unenviable task ahead, it’s hard to remember that just five months ago no fewer than 15 candidates filed to run for school board. Memories also fail, especially in Topeka, when it comes to the 2006 resolution of the school-finance lawsuit, which expected the Legislature to do its constitutional duty and suitably fund schools.