The community’s victory on the vote to change how school district members are elected may not have the impact community members had hoped.
The community won the battle with an almost two-to-one vote on the USD 259 question on the November 8 ballot. But they may have suffered an even more significant loss.
The question on whether the way USD 259 school board members are elected be changed, won overwhelmingly, thanks to the community’s battle to get the issue on the ballot.
In case you didn’t understand, here’s what was at stake.
There are seven members who are elected to serve on the Wichita School Board, one from each of six identified districts and one who is elected at large – or by voters across the entire city. Candidates for district seats must live within the boundaries of the district they’re running to represent.
Since 1994, in the primaries for the six district seats, only voters who live in the district voted for candidates running in their district. However, in the general election, instead of just voters from the district voting on who represents them, voters from across the city voted on the candidates from all six district races as well as the at-large race.
The Election Change
Members of Wichita’s African-American community were the most vocal group behind the issue to change the general elections so that only residents of the district can vote for the candidate instead of everyone in the city voting for who represents the district.
This process was different from almost any election. In races for representatives to the Wichita City Council, Kansas House, Kansas Senate and even the U.S. Congress, only voters who live in the district for the candidates in both the primary and the general election.
Members of the Black community complained the at-large vote in the general election resulted in the dilution of their minority vote.
Under the school district’s bifurcated elections process there has not been a Black representative serving Wichita’s District One, which covers most of Northeast Wichita since 2017. That year, African-American candidate Betty Arnold won the vote of the district in the primary, but lost in the general election by more than 1,000 votes, mostly based on votes cast by individuals outside the district.
A Win But a Big Loss
With Tuesday’s vote, the Black community may have gained more power of their vote for school board members, but earlier this summer, the Black community suffered a big loss when the school board district boundaries were redrawn.
State law requires the boundaries for all elected offices to be redrawn to make the districts equal in population. This is a process done every 10 years based on census data.
Redistricting for the Board of Education moved the district’s borders east to Hydraulic, moving approximately 1000 Black residents in the McAdams Neighborhood out of District one to District six, to the West. In addition to removing 1000 Black residents, the redistricting moved 3,000 White residents into District one, further reducing the power of the Black vote.
About 9,200 Black children are enrolled in Wichita Public Schools, about 19.5% of the district’s total 47,000 enrollment. The Wichita School Board has no Black members. Instead, six of seven board members are White, though only 30% of the students are White.