Wichita school bond contributors: self-interest gone wild

Big contributions to a political campaign earned a lucrative no-bid contract, plus profits for other firms. But, it was for the children. From December 2008.

The campaign finance report filed by Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education (CARE), reporting on the campaign in favor of the bond issue to benefit USD 259, the Wichita public school district, contains information that should be of interest to Wichitans. (To download and read the report, visit this article: Wichita School Bond Finance Report Omits a Big Contribution.)

For example, Kenton Cox of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture contributed $13,800 in cash to CARE, and that firm made an in-kind contribution of $15,380, reported by the Wichita Eagle to be donated signs.

Why would an architecture firm have such an intense interest in Wichita public schools? Why would Kenton Cox be concerned, given that he doesn’t even live in USD 259? Here’s a possible answer: the minutes of the December 8 meeting of the board report that Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture was awarded a contract for plan management services for the bond issue. The value of this contract, as reported by the Wichita Eagle, is one percent of the value of the bond issue, or $3.7 million. This firm will undoubtedly earn millions more for those projects on which it serves as architect.

Was this lucrative contract put up for bid? Was any other firm considered? Was there ever any doubt that Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture’s contributions to the bond issue campaign would be returned multiplied many-fold?

(The board meeting minutes report that a summary of the agreement for plan management services is available in the appendix to the agenda. Just three weeks later, however, that material is no longer available on USD 259’s website. That’s a problem of a different kind with USD 259.)

Then, what about all the other architect firms that contributed many thousands to the CARE campaign? Civic involvement or self-interest — hoping to be sent a few crumbs in the form of design contracts that Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture decides not to keep for itself?

For the construction and engineering companies that contributed many thousands, the same questions apply.

One analysis finds that 72% of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, was given by contractors, architects, engineering firms and others who directly stand to benefit from the new construction.

Campaign finance reports for the groups that opposed the bond issue will show that real estate developers and owners contributed heavily to these campaigns. It’s likely that the Wichita Eagle — Rhonda Holman, probably — will editorialize about greedy developers, only wanting to increase their profits on the backs of schoolchildren.

These developers, however, are looking out for two things: First, it’s really their tenants that pay the increased property taxes that the school bond will impose. Then, in turn, anyone who eats in these restaurants, or shops at these stores, or rents these apartments, will pay more. The misinformation that USD 259 and CARE spread — that the bond issue costs just a dollar a week for a typical homeowner — didn’t acknowledge these costs.

Second, the property tax environment in Wichita and Kansas is such that development is discouraged. Some projects, as reported in the Wichita Eagle, have been canceled. What’s not seen by the news media and Wichitans are the projects that aren’t proposed or considered because of our high — and about to be made higher — property taxes. We’ll never see or hear about these.

When considering who are the greedy and self-interested parties, look at the CARE campaign finance report and the education bureaucracy in charge of the Wichita public schools. Their names are there.