Ben Blankley – Candidate for Wichita BOE – District 1

Candidates

Responses below are from the candidates and have not been edited. All candidates for a race who chose to respond were asked the same questions.

Biographical Information:

Aerospace Engineer, 14 years at Spirit Aerosystems. SPEEA IFPTE Local 2001 union representative. Former president of Wichita Community Theatre. Spouse Liz Anderson, one child in a USD 259 elementary school

Campaign website/Facebook/Social Media:

Facebook: USD 259 Board of Education Representative Ben Blankley

What specific Wichita Public Schools issues deserve your immediate attention and how do you plan to address them?

The pandemic recovery is in the forefront of my mind as we continue this school year. We will be concentrating tutoring services on identified learning losses with additional federal funds. Longer term, Wichita will likely face declining enrollment, and there will be challenges associated with that transition in regards to school boundaries, staffing, and community input. At the same time, new housing developments put pressure on some neighborhood schools to becomd crowded.

What are your thoughts on how the coronavirus pandemic has changed schooling? Include your thoughts on masks, social distancing, remote learning, and anything you would have done differently.

I think we all learned a lot during remote learning, and it’s short-sighted that strict limits have been placed on it by our state legislature. Some really innovative techniques for reaching students were developed by our staff, and I would hate to see those get abandoned.

Looking back to the 2020-21 school year, we may have been too cautious with our secondary students by keeping them in full remote as long as we did. We now have solid data that shows that we can educate our kids in-person amid a pandemic if we all mask up, social distance, and now, get vaccinated when eligible. I strongly encourage families to get themselves and their children vaccinated for COVID-19 and influenza, so we can continue learning in-person for the vast majority of children and keep parents and caretakers available to go to work.

What is your stance on critical race theory, knowing that USD 259 does not currently teach it?

I think the term of critical race theory in popular culture has been conflated with so many unrelated issues including diversity and inclusion, social emotional learning, and educational equity.

We would be doing all our children a great disservice by avoiding the uncomfortable truths about racism in our local, state, and national history. We talk locally about the Dockum lunch counter sit-ins, but not so much about those Wichitans who encouraged that system of racial discrimination. We have neighborhoods in Wichita on either side of Hillside that have stark differences in affluence today because of racist redlining post-WWII and intergenerational wealth transfer. Even though Wichita no longer buses children for racial integration in our elementary schools, our magnet system was built, in part, to help achieve similar goals. The children of USD 259 come from an incredibly wide variety of countries, family situations, economic circumstances, and language backgrounds. We must provide opportunities for all our children to succeed and break down social barriers for them.

Would you change how much the school district spends on its different departments (teachers, safety, special education, etc.)? If so, how?

Our last transportation contract was very expensive, and could be on a path to becoming unsustainable. This is an area that we probably need to look at closely in the next few years. Also,the vast majority of our budget is people in salaries and benefits, and I would like to keep that percentage high.

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