Wichita, Kansas – Activists with the Southeast Initiative, formerly known as Save Southeast, gathered outside Southeast High yesterday to protest the Wichita School Board’s intentions to close that school and to call the board out for the closure of five other schools in March of 2012. All of the schools that have been closed were located in low-income neighborhoods and had large minority student populations.
Those schools are being rebuilt in undeveloped areas on the outskirts of town, where affluent neighborhoods will be placed, forcing low-income students to be bused out of their communities. These new schools are being paid for with a bond issue that was voted for in 2008, before massive budget cuts from Topeka.
Wichita School Board member Betty Arnold is fond of stating that there was no way the board could have known these schools would have to be closed in order to afford the construction of the new schools. However, in 2009, when the board began selling the bonds to finance new parking lots and buildings, Kansas School Board member Walt Chappell explicitly warned the Wichita School Board that due to a loss in federal funding, the state would be slashing the district’s budget.
Chappell urged the board to reconsider these costly brick and mortar projects. Rather than heed Chappell’s warning, Arnold chose to chastise him for having the “audacity to criticize” the board. Now, four years later, the board is claiming that there was no way they could have known that the district’s budget would be drastically reduced, which is why they have to close schools in low-income neighborhoods, over the objections of parents and concerned citizens.
In reality, the board members have received campaign contributions from the very architectural firm that will build the new schools, Wichita-based Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey. SJCF also lobbied heavily for the bond issue in the first place and would have lost millions if the board voted against building the news schools at this time.
The Southeast Initiative says despite the board’s decision, they are not done fighting and have filed multiple complaints with the Department of Education, joining 25 other cities around the nation in the fight to save schools in low income neighborhoods.