The Wichita school board voted to spend $270,000 in taxpayer money on Monday night, and neither it nor the district wanted you to know why.
“Internet Service interruption” was on the agenda published by the district prior to Monday’s board meeting. The contract with Denver’s Level 3 Communications was in addition to $150,000 paid to the same company about four months ago.
An additional deal with an internet company? It was obvious something was wrong with the district’s network. When The Eagle’s Suzanne Perez Tobias asked district officials for details, she was told schools have had “intermittent internet issues” and, “It’s additional support.”
The contract was placed on the board’s consent agenda, meaning it could be approved in a group of items without discussion. It passed 6-0 with one member absent.
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No public explanation by district officials, no discussion by board members – for a contract of more than a quarter million dollars months after feeding $150,000 to the same company.
Wichita’s school district and board continue to have a transparency problem, and it may take a new board to make it better.
There are some things the district is required to keep from the public – personnel issues, student privacy. This wasn’t one of those. This was an unplanned and unexplained expenditure by Kansas’ largest public school system. The public deserved an immediate reason.
On Tuesday, four days after the contract first appeared on an agenda and a day after the board voted, board president Mike Rodee told Tobias that the new contract was a response to recent attacks against the district’s network.
Rodee is one of two board members who made the rare move of voting against a consent agenda in the summer. Any board member can pull a consent item off the agenda and discuss it, but in that case Rodee and former board member Jeff Davis simply voted against the entire consent agenda without comment. Rodee said the next day he objected to a new contract with First Student, the district’s transportation provider.
There was also the board’s superintendent search in February, when they met in secret to interview candidates during an eight-day private session. The board did not disclose the number of interviews and violated a state statute by failing to justify a reason for the private session.
This week’s transparency lapse shows again that it’s time for a change in the way the district makes its business public. Multiple candidates in November’s school board election have told the Eagle Editorial Board that they would like agenda reviews to be public, instead of in private and in small groups to get around state open meetings laws.
Those candidates realize the value of being open with the students, parents and taxpayers they serve. Transparency will continue to be a problem until district officials and the board acknowledge Wichitans deserve more open representation – before and after a proposal reaches the board table.