The Wichita school district will spend another $420,000 to move employees out of a downtown office building and into a new district headquarters at the former Southeast High School.
Joy Eakins, the only school board member to vote against the expenditure Monday, said she thinks the district has other spending priorities and should not have approved a new project for administrative offices.
“I have a set of priorities I’d like to see funded before I fund new AMAC work,” Eakins said, referring to the Alvin E. Morris Administrative Center, which is being moved to the former Southeast High School at Lincoln and Edgemoor.
“If it’s not something we talked about as a priority recently – like textbook funds or teacher raises or fixing the length of the school day or the length of the school year – then I want to know where it lies on a set of priorities before I’m willing to support it,” she said.
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“We can’t say we have no money if there is some money where we could make a change.”
In December, the Wichita board voted to spend $3.3 million to convert the former Southeast High into administrative offices. That project is complete, and employees plan to move from the current headquarters building at 201 N. Water this summer.
On Monday, superintendent Alicia Thompson recommended expanding the project, directing another $420,000 to move the district’s Learning Services department from the Joyce Focht Instructional Support Center, 412 S. Main, into the new headquarters.
She said moving the offices would cost less now than down the road, when the price of labor and materials could rise.
“It also gives us a little more efficiency to have Learning Services all under one particular roof,” Thompson said. She said teacher training would continue to be based at the Instructional Support Center, and some district employees would remain there.
Thompson said the project would be financed with capital outlay funds, including proceeds from the recent sales of several vacant schools.
Eakins, however, said she was told during a private meeting with Thompson last week that proceeds from the property sales would go toward “some other projects we may fund in the future.”
Board members occasionally meet with district staff individually or in small groups to ask questions or provide input about items on the agenda. They refer to the meetings as “three-by-threes” because they include up to three board members – the maximum allowed to meet in private, according to the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
“During my three-by-three, we talked about using the proceeds of the property sales for a different project,” Eakins said Monday. “Things were floated. There was nothing final.”
The $420,000 expenditure was on Monday’s consent agenda, where routine items appear and usually are approved without discussion. It was listed as a “contract change order” with Hutton Construction, the construction manager for the new headquarters building.
Thompson said proceeds from the property sales – $1.75 million from four properties so far – go into the capital outlay budget, which finances brick-and-mortar projects. Consolidating offices at the former Southeast High had been part of the district’s long-term plan, she said.
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When board members voted in 2013 to build a new Southeast High School, district officials said they planned to make “limited renovations” to accommodate administrative offices at the old Southeast. They didn’t say at the time how much the project was expected to cost.
Initial plans also called for Wichita Area Technical College to locate some classrooms at the former high school.
“That is no longer something we plan to do,” said Andy McFayden, director of marketing and community outreach for the college.