Wichita school bond election (2008)

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The Wichita Unified School District, also known as USD 259, announced in December 2007 that it may place a school district bond issue on the ballot for district residents sometime in 2008. On February 11, 2008, the board voted to hold a special election to vote on a $350 million bond issue.[1] After a meeting on August 11th, 2008, the USD 259 School Board ratified the bond measure while adding an additional $20 million to the bond question.[2] (dead link)

In a special meeting of the board held on April 7, 2008, representatives of Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education, a citizens group that supports the bond issue, told the board that it would "would like more time to communicate the bond issue’s impact on schools and Wichita." The board agreed and moved the date of the election to "no later than November 4, 2008."[3]

USD 259 is the largest school district in Kansas with approximately 49,000 students. The bond question under consideration would issue a bond for $350 million dollars as well as extend the payback schedule on the USD 259's $284.5 million bond issue from 2000 for eight years at a cost of over $600 million dollars.

In mid-June, "school board members, bond supporters and consultants" said that because of the concerns that have been raised over the scope of the project, which is the largest in state history, they may scale back on what they ask for to improve the odds of winning the bond election.[4] The district's long-time superintendent, Winston Brooks, recently resigned from the district prior to the election of the largest bond measure this year.[5]

Proposed uses for the 2008 bond issue

The proposed bond issue would distribute $300-400 million dollars to various capital improvement, reconstruction, and construction projects.

Specifically, the bond issue would allocate funds for these projects:

  1. Six new swimming pools, including a $2 million swimming pool at East High School.
  2. $17 million for technical education programs
  3. $10 million for construction material cost increases[6]
  4. Several new football stadiums
  5. Several new 2,000 seat gymnasiums
  6. Construction of two high schools, two K-8 schools, and four new or replacement elementary schools
  7. 60 tornado emergency units[7]
  8. Installation of all-weather turf in the football stadiums at South, Heights and Northwest high schools.

The architectural firm, Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture, designed the plan; the same private, for-profit firm managed the district's successful $284.5 million bond issue in 2000.

Impact on property taxes

The projected bond issue in the $300-400 million range would add about 3.5 mill to local tax bills, or about $40.25 for a $100,000 household. The tax rate on commercial property is 2.2 times the household levy. Currently, the Wichita School District spends about $1,749 per person living in USD 259.

Wichita USD levy has grown rapidly over the period of one decade, nearly 40% from 37 mills to nearly 53 mills.[8]

District not at capacity

Although the bond issue calls for construction of new schools to stop classroom crowding, currently, only 83% of Wichita United School Districts classrooms are currently utilized.[9]

Issues with USD 259's bond issue

In 2000, voters approved a $284.5 million bond issue for USD 259; it was the largest in state history to that point and most of that debt is still outstanding.[10] After an August 11th USD 259 Board meeting which ratified $20 million to the bond amount, the board issued that the state will pay 20% of the total bond cost or $90 million.[11]

Controversy over the structural stability of Wichita's schools during heavy storms and tornadoes has been fueling the proponents of the bond issue question which was visually and publicly enhanced in an article by Richard Crowson titled "The Big Gamble."[12]

A major criticism of the proposed bond is the continuing growth in USD 259's budget despite a stagnant level of student enrollment.[13]


The main organized support group for the Wichita School Bond issue is CARE or Citizen's Alliance for Responsible Education.[14] Sarah Olson is the group's coordinator, and Randy Thon is a co-leader. Keith Stevens is the group's treasurer.

CARE's advocacy plans include:

  • Distributing 50,000 flyers about the bond issue to Wichita students before the end of the 2007-2008 school year;
  • A "second kickoff" of the bond campaign when classes resume in mid-August.

Confusion over CARE survey

A telephone survey paid for by CARE was conducted in May in order to assess public opinion of the proposed bond. Although CARE paid for the survey, CARE leaders Olson and Thon told the Wichita Eagle, a local newspaper, that they didn't "know who is conducting the survey, how much it cost, how many people will be called, or the nature of the questions being asked." Olson also said the survey was financed "by recent donations"[15]

Bob Weeks, an opponent of the bond issue, notes that CARE and Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey, the architects who would be retained by the school board to design and manage the massive construction project, "share the same street address."[16]

The survey is known to have asked Wichita residents:

  • Whether they plan to vote for the bond issue;
  • What their perceptions --"extremely favorable," "somewhat favorable," "somewhat unfavorable" or "extremely unfavorable" are of the bond issue;
  • Their perceptions of local school officials, including Lynn Rogers, Wichita school board vice president, and Martin Libhart, interim superintendent;
  • Their perception of Karl Peterjohn, executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network.


There are two main opposition groups to the Wichita School Bond Issue, "A Better Way Wichita" and "Wichitans for Effective Education."[17][18] Both groups advocate for common sense education solutions and have been countering arguments for the $350 million dollar bond issue. Both organizations have focused the anti-bond issue campaign on the fiscal impact of the measure on taxpayers.

Other notable citizens opposing this bond measure include Helen Cochran of A Better Way Wichita and Bob Weeks of the Voice For Liberty in Wichita[19] Cochran argues that the bond issue should be dropped until a new superintendent is hired to replace current superintendent Winston Brooks, who is leaving on June 30, 2008, and until the board can explain "how a bond issue would raise student achievement."

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Additional reading