September 23, 2019
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It’s been a decade since voters approved a bond issue that funded new schools, storm shelters, athletic facilities and nearly 2 million square feet of additional space in the Wichita district.

Now district leaders want to know where to go from here.

School board members last week approved a $300,000 contract with RSP Associates, an Overland Park-based consulting firm, to study demographic trends, enrollment patterns and how efficiently the district is using its space.

The consultants will analyze data, walk through buildings and talk with school officials this school year and are expected to deliver their report next summer.

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“We’ve got to keep up with this in order to give you good data and good information to make informed decisions,” said Superintendent Alicia Thompson.

“We can kind of do our own little ‘We think’ or ‘This looks like this’ or ‘We think we ought to,’ but that’s not a good way to make good decisions,” she said. “We need some expertise and some people who are planners to be able to help us to do this work.”

The last time the board hired RSP Associates, in 2012, its report prompted a controversial overhaul of attendance boundaries and the closure of five schools. It also preceded the board’s decision to build a new Southeast High School at 127th Street East and Pawnee and to renovate the old school into district offices.

Fabian Armendariz, chief of operations for the Wichita district, said the new RSP contract “is not a boundary study at this point,” but could lead to changes depending on the findings.

“Right now we just need to know where our student enrollment is and our demographics are in order for us to be able to move forward,” he said.

“This gives us the ability to look into that crystal ball and to project into the future.”

As part of the study, RSP will highlight demographic and housing patterns across the district and offer five-year projections, Armendariz said. The consultants also will report the number of school-age children who live within each attendance boundary and the percentage who attend the public school for that boundary area.

In 2012, RSP found that Southeast High School had the highest transfer rate of any high school in Wichita. That was one factor in the district’s decision to build a new high school rather than renovate the old one at Lincoln and Edgemoor.

The new study will show district officials which magnet or neighborhood schools are drawing the most students and whether some programs should be shifted to different schools. If a significant number of children in one area are traveling across the city for an English Language Learners program, for example, the district might consider starting an ELL program in that neighborhood school.

“Right now it feels like we’re driving blind a little bit, and is it because we have not had demographic studies done on a timely basis?” board member Stan Reeser asked during a recent meeting.

“That would be a correct statement,” replied Thompson, the superintendent.

Board president Sheril Logan said spending money on consultants and demographic studies is an investment.

“We are a data-driven board, and this is a great way for us to get data to be able to make informed decisions. Because who knows what’s going to happen in the future?” she said.

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Noelle Sosa