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Here’s how a possible $450 million bond issue could reshape Wichita school district

In World
June 11, 2024

The Wichita school board heard a plan Monday for a $450 million bond issue proposal that would support the complete rebuilding of eight schools over the next five to six years.

The district would reduce its overall footprint by 11 buildings, consolidating programs into new and existing facilities and closing four elementary schools, five special schools and two administrative buildings.

The draft proposal, presented by Ohio-based consultant Woolpert, comes three months after the school board voted to permanently close six schools as a cost-saving measure.

The board planned to take no binding action Monday night, but intended to revisit the facilities master plan proposal on June 27 after community feedback on the recommendations has been collected.

Four elementaries in north central Wichita — L’Ouverture Magnet, OK, Pleasant Valley and Woodland — would be closed under the new plan, although district officials say many of the students and teachers would be transferred together to new buildings.

“Not something we can promise every kid and every community, but that would be the intention,” Superintendent Kelly Bielefeld said at a news briefing before the board meeting. “This is much more of a merging of schools than what we did in March, which was to close schools and then those kids kind of got spread all over the place.”

The plan calls for eight new buildings to replace existing schools of the same name. Coleman Magnet and Truesdell middle schools would be rebuilt, as would Black Magnet, McLean Magnet, Adams, Caldwell, and Irving elementaries, and the Little Early Childhood Center, which houses pre-K and kindergarten programs.

Bielefeld said most schools would be rebuilt on the property they currently occupy, although that’s not true in all cases. The new Little Early Childhood Center would be rebuilt on the site of the adjacent Chester Lewis Academic Learning Center, which would have its current programs shifted elsewhere.

“There’s a lot of dominoes in the plan,” Bielefeld said. “There’s a rebuild this and then shuffle this, and then put other things here, so it will take a few years for us to actualize all this.”

An expansion would be built onto Cessna elementary to turn it into a K-8 school and Isely Magnet elementary, which was originally built to house a K-8 program, would also take on middle school students.

The existing Coleman Magnet middle school would be repurposed to house consolidated alternative programs, and Jardine Magnet, one of the recently closed middle schools, would be renovated to take on new students from the special schools that are being consolidated.

Those alternative programs that would be consolidated includue Dunlap, a life skills program for 18-21-year-olds; Gateway, an alternative school for middle and high school students; and Bryant, Wells and Sowers, special day schools.

The plan calls for rebuilding a building on East High’s campus that currently houses WSU Tech programs. The rebuilt facility would serve as the district’s third future-ready center, which would prepare students for careers in HVAC/plumbing/electrical and other skilled labor.

The district would also close two administrative buildings, the Dunbar and Joyce support centers.

Additionally, just over a third of the $450 million supported by the bond issue would be dedicated to addressing deferred maintenance needs across the district.

Bond issue

USD 259’s local option budget property tax is maxed out at 33% of the general fund budget, meaning any major project to renovate existing schools or build new ones would have to be funded through a bond issue. That would require voters to approve a property tax increase to pay off bonds. The last Wichita school bond issue was approved in 2008, when a narrow 2% margin of voters favored the $370 million renovation and expansion package.

“Most districts around us, whether they’re suburban or rural, have passed multiple bond issues since 2008,” Bielefeld said.

He wouldn’t say if he expects a bond proposal to be added to the November ballot. The deadline for getting a question on the ballot in Sedgwick County is Sept. 2.

“I think we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves to talk about community support for a bond because really, that comes next once the plan is finalized,” Bielefeld said.

He said the draft recommendations are “clearly aligned with data,” and that the scope was determined by feedback consultants collected during a round of public meetings and a survey in April.

“What our consultants have is essentially a heat map of the district’s footprint and areas where there are the most students and the most projected students. And that is where we are building the new schools,” Bielefeld said.

On Tuesday, the district will send out another survey to collect public input on the draft recommendations through June 20. Bielefeld said it will largely be up to the board to determine how much that feedback shapes the final plan.

“I hope that this is a process where people’s voice and agency comes into play, and there also may be a chance that the plan doesn’t change at all based on the feedback,” Bielefeld said. “If the plan doesn’t change, that doesn’t mean we didn’t listen to the feedback. It could just mean we got a lot of support for the plan.

“What I hope we hear from the community is both what they like and what they don’t like.”

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