Teachers’ union appears on board with Wichita district’s plan to spend big, close schools

Voters will likely be asked in November if they approve of borrowing $450 million as part of a $2.1 billion plan to remake the district’s schools and other buildings

By Marcus Clem


  1. Voters would be asked to pay for building upgrades, closures and student transfers. The plan costs $2.1 billion, starting with a $450 million bond issue.
  2. The proposal follows decisions in March to close schools.
  3. Like that decision, this plan might save money, by shutting down costly, old structures.

The union for 4,000 district teachers and other workers looks inclined to favor Wichita Public Schools’ $2.1 billion plan to remake several schools and buildings.

Voters will likely decide this fall if Wichita Public Schools can borrow $450 million to fix up old schools, build some new ones and close 11 buildings.

The school board will soon move toward putting the bond issue to voters in the Nov. 5 general election. The pending plan would issue $450 million in bonds as the plan’s first phase.

Katie Warren, president of the United Teachers of Wichita, said frequent reports of buildings falling apart over age and maintenance problems mean that a big-scale investment is needed.

“We had sewage leaking into a teacher’s classroom last year. … We have several middle school gyms that don’t have air conditioning,” she said. “Getting a new building and being able to have the same resources (as) in the surrounding districts is important.” 

The district has launched a survey for parents, students, teachers or other community members. Warren said her union will do its own surveys, but that the plan appears to meet key needs.

“We really want good things for our students and our teachers so that they have bigger classroom spaces and new facilities,” she said. “That would be beneficial.”

Superintendent Kelly Bielefeld speaks about plans to shutter some schools and improve others if voters approve borrowing $450 million. (Marcus Clem/The Beacon)

Superintendent Kelly Bielefeld said the city’s public schools require an investment. 

“Almost all of us are products of public education at some point in our lives,” he said, “whether that’s K-12 or college. You know, people invested in us.”

Tax levels won’t change immediately because of the $450 million bond issue.

The money would pay to rebuild Adams, Black, Irving, McLean, Truesdell and Caldwell elementary schools. It would also cover the cost of building a new early childhood center and a new middle school. 

At the same time, the plan would close some schools that require the most upkeep and have the most unused space.

L’Ouverture, OK, Pleasant Valley and Woodland elementary schools would shutter and their students would transfer to one of the newly renovated schools. 

OK Elementary kids would go to Black and McLean (an average distance of 2.17 miles away). L’Ouverture kids would go to Irving, Mueller and Spaght (2.82 miles away, on average). Woodland would send pupils to Cloud, Irving, McLean and Riverside (2.28 miles away, on average). Pleasant Valley students would end up at either Cloud, Earhart, McLean or Ortiz (2.16 miles away, on average). 

The plan assumes that the district will stick with the closure of six campuses: Hadley and Jardine middle schools, as well as Clark, Cleaveland, Park and Payne elementary schools.

“The bad news is,” board President Stan Reeser said, “we are built for the Baby Boomer generation and we’re carrying too many buildings with too many physical needs.” 

With $415 million set aside for the changes, that leaves $35 million for repairs to the city’s high schools.  

Other sites that serve special purposes would be consolidated. Those include the Chisholm Center, Gateway Center, Little Early Childhood Center, Sowers Special Education Center, Greiffenstein-Wells Alternative School, Dunbar Center and the Joyce Focht Support Center. 

David Sturtz, whose company helped write the plan, has urged passage of the bond. Sturtz said it is a gift that the district has the capacity to bond at $450 million without a tax-rate change. 

“We’re looking at what you can sustain,” Sturtz said, “to serve you for the next 100 years.” 

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Beacon