Tonight I attended my first Wichita School Board Meeting, standing in solidarity with members of the community who passionately oppose the proposal to close five schools, busing the students to larger schools in more distant neighborhoods. I was shocked and appalled to learn that School Board Chairwoman Betty Arnold dictates what members of the community are and are not permitted to say.
Furthermore, Arnold used her authority to stifle criticism of the school board’s actions and the lack of transparency in the redistricting process which has been reported by the Wichita Eagle. Parents were not permitted to voice their concerns over what many believe has been a dishonest process. State law does allow Arnold to preside over the preceding in this manner.
Arnold, who unsuccessfully ran for the County Commission in 2009, may be pandering to the very interest groups and power brokers who are stripping the funding to our schools. Local blogger Bob Weeks notes:
“It’s hard to figure out what Arnold could do to persuade Republican voters to support her. Her vote for a property tax increase, her recommendation that voters approve an expensive and unneeded bond issue, and her anti-school choice stance are not positions that will appeal to conservatives and those who value freedom and liberty, be they Republican, unaffiliated, or of any other party.”
Arnold lost in 2009, according to Weeks, for not supporting the very measures we are seeing now in the budget cuts and subsequent school closings. Has Arnold changed her tune? Is that why she would not permit registered speakers to comment on the lack of transparency in this process?
I understand the need for the board to keep the discussion on track, and speakers should remain respectful. Unfortunately, what I saw tonight was an intentional effort to suppress information from the public.
Near the end of the meeting, Mary Dean, one of the registered speakers who questioned the board’s actions, was forced to leave by security at Arnold’s command, which she did willingly.