Brooks Makes His Case

USD 259’s superintendent gets back-to-back opportunities to make the case for increasing the public’s burden, in the form of two articles in the Wichita Eagle.

First comes the September 5 article “Brooks: Schools making progress but need more resources,” by Jill Cohan.

The article is about a presentation that Superintendent Winston Brooks made before Mayor Carl Brewer and other community leaders. “Our progress has been pretty remarkable considering our challenges,” he said.

Brooks said revamping the district’s agreement on busing for integration, reducing class sizes to meet the state average, and the need to upgrade deteriorating athletic facilities are the key issues his administration hopes to address in the coming year.

Though Cohan reports that “Brooks was careful to say ‘this is not a bond issue pitch,'” it’s hard to see how it can be otherwise. That’s especially when you read “If the district is to improve further, it needs community support, Brooks said.”

Support can come in many forms, but to a school administrator, the most obvious form is cold, hard cash. Sounds like a sales pitch, doesn’t it?

The second article, Brooks: Busing, class size key issues, comes on September 6. It’s also by Cohan. The article is mostly a redo of the September 5 article, with a few additions involving the move to dismantle the forced busing program.

If busing for integration ended, Brooks said many of the formerly bused black students wouldn’t have neighborhood schools to attend. Some parents also depend on the district’s buses to get their kids to school, he said. The end of busing also might mean taking unpopular steps such as changing magnet schools to neighborhood schools, he said.

The busing agreement only affects black and white students, Brooks added, but Hispanic students now make up 22 percent of Wichita students, most in the core of the city. The district needs to develop solutions to accommodate that growth, he said.

“If we’re talking about separate but unequal, the last thing you want to do is put 40 or 50 non-English-speaking Latinos in a classroom in central Wichita…. It would be the greatest travesty this community could ever do.”

So the solution may be … build more schools? It’s amazing how one solution to a problem leads to other problems.

Get ready for a building campaign:

Existing schools — including Stucky Middle School and Irving and Park elementary schools — already are at or over capacity, Brooks said. At the same time, the northeast and southeast parts of the district will need new schools soon.

Wichita also would like to bring its class sizes down to the state average — 15 students per class for elementary schools, 18 for middle schools and 22 for high schools. It would need to add 800 classrooms to the 2,400 it already has.

This despite the fact that class-size reduction efforts are very expensive, and have minimal effects. (The most famous experiment, Project STAR, produced lasting but minimal effects, especially when you consider that no pre-test was administered.)

How important are athletics? Important enough for a tax increase?

An assessment in 1999 identified about $500 million worth of improvements needed in the district, Brooks said. The 2000 bond issue took care of many, but did little to address athletics and arts facilities.

Now, fields and fine arts classrooms are “embarrassing” compared to some of Wichita’s neighbors, Brooks said.

Some poorly endowed schools in other cities are doing just fine academically, even if they lack state-of-the-art gymnasiums. What’s the priority?

On the “not a bond issue pitch” tour, Brooks gave another prediction of the need for other school buildings:

The district is using some of its $24 million capital outlay funds to make improvements at Earhart Environmental Magnet Elementary and to fund a K-8 International Baccalaureate magnet school being built near 25th North and Grove, Brooks said. But a new high school the district would like to build in the northeast part of the city could cost $40 million.”You cannot use capital outlay money to build and fix the needs that we have,” he said.

Brooks ended the pitch by asking people to shore up the institution:

As he concluded his remarks, Brooks said Wichitans should care about public schools whether or not they have students enrolled because the district educates more of the city’s population than any other institution.

Some community members may not subscribe to his vision, he said, but a strong education system is part of the reason Money Magazine named Wichita among the Top 10 places to live.

Two thoughts here: education is indeed important, but it can be delivered through many ways. USD 259 represents one approach. It works for some, but it should not be expected to be the only model. Finally, “a strong education system” includes privately run schools, home schools, and public charter schools. Unfortunately, these other parts of the education system get short shrift these days.

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