December 5, 2023

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Transparency Becomes Focus of Wichita School Board Campaigns

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Members of the USD 259 Wichita school board are in a sparring match over a letter to the editor outgoing board member Joy Eakins penned to the Wichita Eagle. Eakins, who is not seeking re-election, wrote that transparency is an issue on the board of education.

“The Wichita Board of Education transparency issue is not a perceived problem — there is a problem,” she writes. “…I’m sorry to say it, but in my opinion things on the inside don’t look any better than they do from where you are sitting.”

She says there is a misguided belief that all board members should be on the same page all of the time.

“I have been told by some members that a vote of 6-1 or 5-2 is harmful–even dangerous,” she writes. Eakins calls it bullying.

Board member Lynn Rogers responded with a column of his own that appears to confirm Eakins’ transparency concerns. He writes that he is disappointed that Eakins chose to air her grievances publicly. Rogers, who is also not seeking re-election after 16 years on the board, called the column an attack.

Wichita school board members are having a public debate in the pages of the Wichita Eagle about transparency issues. Transparency has become a central focus of several candidates vying for USD 259 board of education seats.

“I wish she’d brought these concerns to us directly,” he says. “…Unity should come when board members are informed and following a common mission.”

Currently, board members review agenda items in small, private groups of two or three–one less than a quorum. Rogers says, “those meetings never take the place of substantive, public discussion.”

The Wichita Eagle editorial board appears to agree with Eakins’ assessment of closed door meetings among small numbers of board members.

“The kerfuffle between Eakins and other board members is a result of years of a desire to arrive at Monday meetings with decisions already made, differences already hashed out. Vote this way or else,” a recent editorial reads. “Eakins, often a lone dissenting vote and often the member to pull items off the no-discussion consent agenda, seemed exasperated and thought it was time to speak out.”

The Eagle editorial board says it needs to stop now.

Several school board candidates are making transparency a central campaign issue. Three board members are not seeking re-election, and board president Mike Rodee and memer Betty Arnold are seeking to retain their seats.

The election is Nov. 7.

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