Wichita Board of Education
The following are The Eagle editorial board’s recommendations for the Nov. 7 general election for Wichita Board of Education. Voters living in the Wichita school district may vote in all four races being contested.
We offer this recommendation as information to consider as you make up your own mind about the candidates and issues. Go to Kansas.com for more about each candidate.
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Ben Blankley, 34, receives our endorsement as a first-time candidate. A systems integration engineer at Spirit Aerosystems, Blankley acknowledges being the most progressive of the candidates in any of the districts. He would push for a public agenda review process — like the City Council and Sedgwick County Commission — instead of smaller, private briefings with board members that get around state open-meetings laws. Another priority is a sliding scale for pre-kindergarten fees so that low-income families are able to enroll children ages 3 and 4.
Blankley raised eyebrows during his candidate interview when he was asked about the time commitment to be a board member. He suggested if the volunteer role took too much time, it was the fault of the job and not of him. We think Blankley can be a good board member, but he should recognize that he’s volunteering to work for Wichita students and that time and dedication isn’t negotiable.
This is the first time Betty Arnold, 68, has had an opponent in her 10 years on the board. A retired auditor, her top priority is improving the district’s graduation rates, determining why rates have declined and identifying short- and long-term solutions. If Arnold wins a fourth term, we encourage her to be a better board member. She is known at the board table for verbal admonitions, eye rolls and other distractions when she appears disinterested in what’s being said by a speaker or by others at the board table.
Two candidates in this east Wichita district would make strong board members. Trish Hileman, 42, receives our endorsement because of her passion and grass-roots enthusiasm for the Wichita district. With five children in the district, ages 9-16, including two with special needs, Hileman has been an aggressive advocate for her kids and their schools. She is an advocate for transparency and would encourage meeting changes such as smaller consent agendas and not requiring speakers to sign up in advance. She would be an outgoing voice who would take seriously the process of district oversight.
Julie Hedrick, 61, would also be a good board member. She worked in the district for 28 years, the last three as division director of facilities, and was involved in all of the bond projects over 16 years. She has strong knowledge of how the district works, but a concern is that she could remain too close to the district administration she would be overseeing.
Debra Washington, 57, is running for the first time. Her top priority is changing the requirement to allow 4-year-olds to attend kindergarten if they turn 5 within 90 days of the start of school.
Mike Rodee, 61, is the clear choice in District 5, which covers west Wichita. The owner of a paving and sealing business, Rodee has used business sense in his first term to become a knowledgeable board member, especially in trying budget times.
As board president this school year, we’d like to see Rodee take a leadership role in improving board transparency. Too many items are being approved without discussion on a consent agenda that’s controlled by the president. Rodee was rightly criticized in the summer for not explaining a rare vote against a consent agenda. He explained a day later that he didn’t like a new contract with the district’s bus provider. Rodee should win re-election and strive to become a leader to new members – not by telling them how it’s done, but by building cohesion and listening to different opinions.
Peter Grant, 60, a table games dealer at Kansas Star Casino, has run for this office four previous times without success. His top priority is to retain the best teachers through pay increases.
Ron Rosales, 52, is the best choice in a north Wichita district with three good candidates. A former teacher in Wichita and now teaching in Haysville, Rosales has first-hand knowledge of the challenges faced by teachers. His priority for the district is increasing the graduation rate for minorities, especially boys, and curbing the increasing discipline numbers for those boys. Rosales should strive to represent all of District 6, but it’s notable that in 45 years of school board rosters, there has never been a mostly Hispanic board member. Today, Hispanic children make up the largest segment of students by race in the district. It is time they and their families are able to look at the board table and see an Hispanic board member.
Shirley Jefferson, 74, served an appointed term on the board from 2005-07 and did not run for re-election. A retired compliance and Equal Employment Opportunity investigator, Jefferson said emphasizing the family’s role in educating a child is her top priority. She also wants to make sure that all schools in the district are receiving equal funding and treatment.
Walt Chappell, 75, is well-versed in Kansas education and would be an advocate for transparency on the board. He said the Wichita district has enough money to function and would be opposed to spending money for lawyers to argue Gannon, the case by which the state Supreme Court determined the Legislature is not adequately funding K-12 education. He is opposed to the Common Core standards and said he would employ patience and collaboration with other board members for change. But as a member of the state Board of Education from 2009-13, Chappell was often divisive and a lone dissenting vote.
Members of The Eagle’s editorial board are publisher Kelly Mirt, executive editor Steve Coffman and community engagement editor Kirk Seminoff.