As fences around Wichita elementary school playgrounds begin going up, the result of a $231,000 expense to make playgrounds safer by possibly restricting access after school hours, let’s take a moment to remember how the Board of Education made the decision.
Work has begun to erect the fences at 41 elementary playgrounds around the city. Arguments for and against the plan to close off playgrounds are solid, and we’ve been in favor of caution before locking gates permanently.
On May 7, the board was presented with a consent agenda — approve all items with one vote and no discussion — that included $270,000 for playground equipment and services. No mention of fencing, no mention of keeping playgrounds off-limits.
Board member Julie Hedrick rightly pulled the fencing proposal off the consent agenda, meaning the board could discuss it and either take or postpone action.
In Suzanne Tobias’ most recent story, school board member Ben Blankley said he’s heard from at least 70 constituents, with the majority supporting open playgrounds. “I kind of anticipated that this was going to be an issue that people were going to be passionate about,” Blankley said. “And that’s definitely the case.”
So if Blankley and others anticipated it would be a hot-button issue with parents and other constituents, why couldn’t district leaders have also sensed that and leave it off the consent agenda in the first place? Wouldn’t it have been more transparent to put in on the regular agenda so the public could know about a major policy change?
As it was, Hedrick asked if the expense was indeed for fencing and mentioned constituents still wanted accessible playgrounds. The board approved the expense 7-0.
Supporters of more transparent government were encouraged when new board members took their seats in January, and Hedrick came through in making the best of a bad situation.