Should Southeast High School Be Saved?
The Wichita School Board will decide Monday the future of Southeast High School. The board is looking at options including a renovation of the school or building a new school and relocating students.
A 2008 bond issue included both renovating Southeast and building a new southeast school at 127th and Pawnee but significant cuts to education funding by the State of Kansas has affected that plan. The school district reports that since 2009 general fund operating dollars are $199 million lower than what state law dictates the district should have received, making it difficult to operate and staff both the current Southeast and a new southeast quadrant high school.
The school board could choose from three options:
- (Option A) Renovate Southeast at its current location, 903 S. Edgemoor
- (Option B) Build a new high school at 127th and Pawnee and relocate Southeast students
- (Option C) Renovate Southeast and also build a new school, consistent with the original bond plan
No matter the decision, the current Southeast High School building will not be vacant. Discussion has included the possibility of moving some Wichita Area Technical College programs as well as relocating and consolidating the district's administration and instructional support centers.
Don Landis is the community organizer of Save Southeast, a grassroots organization aimed at keeping the school open at its present location and expanding it.
The group originally agreed with option C, which Landis says was included in the 2008 Bond issue but abandoned that option due to economic costs to keep both schools functioning.
He says option A would be the best for taxpayers.
“It’s $54 million dollars to build a brand new high school at 127th and Pawnee for 1800 students,” says Landis. "The current building holds 1,600. We could fix it up for around $20 million to make it a very nice school.”
In addition, Landis says taxpayers have to consider the cost of road construction and busing students. He says there will be additional costs in several areas if a new school is built.
He says the bulk of parents and students he’s talked to who live near Southeast want the school to remain in the neighborhood although some students are intrigued by the idea of a new building.
Wichita’s Northeast Magnet moved from 17th and Chautauqua to a new school building at 53rd North and Rock Road in 2012. He says the magnet school served the neighborhood west of Wichita State University well.
“There was interaction in the neighborhood between the students there," he says. "They had a very strong relationship with WSU because, physically, they were very close to it."
Landis says even though the school building is occupied, it’s not the same.
Studies have shown when a neighborhood loses a school, Landis says, it deteriorates the real estate value.
“People live there for the proximately of the schools and when they lose that some people lose interest in living there," he says. They move to follow the school.”
Landis says we’ve this has happened in many cities, such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit.
“Wichita has the opportunity to turn that around,” he says, “By believing in Southeast, investing in the school and making the neighborhood more viable. We could do that. Instead we just want to throw it away.”
Landis has talked with several business owners near Southeast High School who are concerned about the loss of business if students are bused to a new site.
“The ones that depend upon the students for a lot of their business are very upset," he says. "There’s a lot of different businesses that depend on a vibrant neighborhood, and those kids generate some cash flow for them and their families.”
Discussion about the future of Southeast has been ongoing for several weeks. Landis complements the school board on providing opportunities for the community to give feedback about the future of the high school through meetings, emails and an online survey.
He’s encouraging as many people as possible that care about Southeast to be in attendance Monday to see what the board decides.
Landis says Wichita School Board President Lynn Rogers is expected to request every school board member list the pros the cons about their vote on Southeast.
“He’s going to ask that engagement from every school board member and I think that’s excellent, so that we’ll learn what they did, what process they followed to make their decisions.”
The Wichita School Board meeting will be held Monday at 6pm in the Wichita High School North lecture hall, 1437 Rochester.