School Bond Issue Gets One Last Debate Before Election

By: Natasha Trelfa Email
By: Natasha Trelfa Email

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The forum was scheduled to have Lynn Rogers, from USD 259 and Helen Cochran with Citizens For Better Education on hand to answer questions.

Due to a disagreement with the panel chosen, Cochran decided it was not in the best interest for a fair debate to participate.

However, Cochran did watch the debate, and KAKE News caught up with her to get her response to the questions from the forum.

The $370 million school bond has been a heated issue for months in Wichita. With just hours before the election, key people from both sides sat down to answer some last minute questions.

A big question: What are the pros and cons of adding millions of dollars in new facilities, particularly athletic ones, to compete with other districts?

"I don't see the city saying sports aren't important. If you go to any school that's dropped all those things, the test scores have plummeted and all those things keep people engaged," said Lynn Rogers, with USD 259.

"A school district's number one mission is to educate children, and send them off into the world where they can read, write, spell and reason and that's one of the reasons why we're opposing this bond issue, because we feel like the priorities have been misplaced," said Helen Cochran, with Citizens For Better Education.

Another point of disagreement comes from the state being slated to pay 25 percent of the cost. It's something opponents say still comes out of our pockets.

"That 25 percent is not money that is sitting in a piggy bank in Topeka, Kansas. It is money that has to be raised from all of us in Kansas," said Cochran.

Supporters say it's a way to make sure that money gets put into Wichita schools.

"If we don't take advantage of that, you and I are still going to be paying into the state for the funding formula," said Rogers.

Then there was the debate about whether or not the district should have posed a smaller sticker number similar to surrounding districts or separated the items needed.

"A suburban district in Valley Center recently passed a $53 million bond issue. If they were the same size as Wichita, that same issue would translate into over a billion dollars," said Rogers.

"What they should have done is break this bond into several questions, let the people decide what the priorities should be based on what the district is telling us," said Cochran.

While both sides say they could continue to debate the many issues behind the bond, now it's time to turn it over to the voters.

As for why Cochran decided not to attend the forum, she was against having Mark McCormick of the Wichita Eagle on the panel. He has written columns supporting the bond.

He did offer to remove himself from the panel Sunday afternoon when he heard Cochran's reason, but unfortunately by that time, it was too late. Cochran did provide us with the following statement outlining the specifics behind her decision.

Helen Cochran's Statement:

"Late yesterday afternoon, after repeatedly requesting information for several weeks, I was finally informed of the forum details for a school bond issue debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters Wichita-Metro to be held today on KAKE television."

"When I was informed that Wichita Eagle editorial board member Mark McCormick, a strident supporter of the proposed Wichita school bond issue, was to be a member of the panel for this debate, I asked that he be replaced (on November 1st). McCormick's editorial commentary has repeatedly criticized Citizens for Better Education in a highly charged and opinionated manner. McCormick's recent appearance on Kansas Week (10/24) as a bond proponent spokesman further disqualified him as a non-partisan panelist. McCormick is certainly entitled to his opinion, however, I feel his participation as a panelist is not in the best interests of a fair and civil debate."

"According to the National League of Women Voters website, the guidelines for a debate states: 'It is given that panelists must have no previous relationship with any of the candidates.' It is obvious to anyone that has followed this public debate that McCormick has adamantly taken a stand in support of the bond issue and constitutes the type of relationship that these guidelines warn against."

"For these reasons, after due deliberation, and with the support of Citizens for Better Education, I decided not to participate in this debate organized by the League of Women Voters Wichita-Metro."

Helen Cochran
November 2nd

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