Bel Aire Joins Wichita

The City of Bel Aire is moving lock, stock and barrel into USD 259. At least if the City Council has its way. The city’s land had been split between USD259 Wichita and USD 375 Circle, but the Council has voted to support a move all city land to USD 259.

The Ark City News set the stage on September 14 (“Families want to maintain school choice in Bel Aire”)

Officials with USD 259 last month asked city leaders if they would support transferring more than 10 square miles of land in the northeast part of the county from the Circle school district into their district. Recent annexations have pushed Bel Aire’s city limits eastward, dividing the city between the two districts. Bel Aire’s west side is in USD 259, but the lesser-developed east side is in USD 375. This portion, however, is expected to see rapid growth in the next few years.

USD 259 has expressed interest in constructing a middle school and possibly a high school in Bel Aire.

But … their interest would be heightened if they had all of Bel Aire.

Residents were divided on whether having two districts or one is a better idea:

For Connell, keeping the boundaries between the two districts as they are is about choices.

Versus:

“Having schools in Bel Aire is a critical factor to create that common ground for residents,” Bruckner said. “Community development leads to economic development.”

Common ground can exist outside of schools, can it not? Scouts, sports leagues, churches, and many other organizations give us a chance to find common ground. And our ability to have choices … is another common ground.

USD 259 says don’t accuse us of being predatory. From a letter to the Wichita Eagle, September 2. Here’s a portion of what COO Martin Libhart wrote:

The Eagle reported on a discussion between the city of Bel Aire and the Wichita school district concerning the possibility of changing district boundary lines between USD 259 and USD 375 (“Wichita district wants land in Bel Aire,” Aug. 22 Eagle). While the report correctly represented the information presented during the meeting, it failed to clearly state that the Wichita school district made the presentation to the Bel Aire City Council at the request of that city’s governing body. This distinction is important. It is not the practice of the Wichita district to pursue the acquisition of property from neighboring school districts.

From KSN.com, news of the city council vote:

The Bel Aire City Council has voted to approve changing school district boundaries — putting the entire town under the Wichita School District, USD 259, and taking some students away from the Circle School District.

The Tuesday evening vote was 4-1 with one abstaining.

There were several opponents of the move that spoke out at Tuesday night’s council meeting. And council members also discussed how difficult the decision was. But in the end they said they voted on what they thought was best for Bel Aire, not necessarily what was best for the school districts.

Another article (“Bel Aire Supports USD 259) from the Ark Valley News:

After more than a month of discussions, debates and presentations from both sides regarding a proposal to include all of Bel Aire in the Wichita school district (USD 259), the council was ready to make its decision during the Sept. 18 city council meeting. But residents were given one last chance to offer their opinions. In the packed council chambers, about 10 residents did just that.

Like previous meetings and a resident-organized town hall the night before, some spoke in favor of changing the school district boundaries to place all of the corporate limits of Bel Aire in one district, while others were opposed. Some called for the council to delay the vote again so the proposal could be examined more. The matter was tabled during the Sept. 4 council meeting.

Ultimately, though, the council voted 4-1, with Gary Breault opposed, to adopt a resolution supporting the boundary change.

Now, it is up to the USD 259 school board to petition the Circle school board to transfer the land in its district that is within the city limits of Bel Aire to Wichita public schools. Currently, no residents live in the eastern portion of Bel Aire that lies inside the Circle boundary. [Emphasis added]

On the plus side, no students will actually have to change schools as a result of the decision.

The move was prompted in part by plans of USD 259 to build a new school in a portion of Bel Aire.

The Wichita school district has proposed building an elementary school and a high school in Bel Aire, while Circle has passed a bond issue to build a roughly 350-student elementary school near Beal Aire, along Greenwich Road, between 37th and 45th streets.

Some students will still have a choice:

If the boundary is changed, parents will still have the option to send their kids to other schools. Often, the amount of available space at a particular school is a determining factor for allowing out-of-district students.

But there’s no guarantee. So what could have been a good situation–two districts to choose from–won’t be.

The mayor says that he endorses the change as a way to get the city its own school buildings. From the Wichita Eagle: “Mayor Harold Smith said he was convinced that the move gives the city the best chance of someday having its own elementary, middle and high schools.” (Bel Aire Council picks USD 259, August 19).

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