We continue today with the County Commission candidates’ responses to our election questionnaire, with today’s topic focused on whether the county government should be an active advocate for public school districts:
Johnson County has built a national name for itself as a place with great public schools — but there are many people in the county, and in the Shawnee Mission District especially, who think that reputation is in jeopardy as funding for schools at has waned and legislators have been resistant to fully fund the state formula. Are you concerned about the state of funding for Johnson County school districts? Does the county have a role to play in advocating for the local school districts?
Patricia Lightner, Commission Chair candidate
There are several funding sources which all contribute to meeting the expense needs of our schools: federal, state and local funding. All school funding from all sources is the direct responsibility of the respective school district.
One of the most important aspects that we all can agree on is that local control, which includes a school district determining its own funding needs, is paramount to our school systems’ success.
Johnson County Government is not charged with any responsibility over our school districts or its funding. However, to the extent that the county can work with schools in certain areas should be explored. For instance, is there an opportunity for the schools to use even for part-time, nurses that are county employed? This avenue and others should be explored in an effort to help schools with costs, and I would certainly be open to ideas where Johnson County could provide some resources to schools.
Our blue-ribbon schools are one of the single, greatest economic development tools this county has to offer in encouraging new business and families to move to Johnson County. And to the extent that Johnson County touts the greatness of its schools, County Government needs to continue to look for ways it can work with the school districts to help keep them exceptional.
Ed Eilert, Commission Chair incumbent
I am concerned about the state’s ability to provide proper funding for our public schools. There is no question that our K-12 schools, excellent community college and higher education opportunities have been the cornerstone of our county and communities success. Specifically as to the Shawnee Mission District, I have been impressed by Dr. Jim Hinson and the Board of Education’s approach to gaining efficiencies in the district operations with innovative and creative approaches. The approach of actively engaging the business community and larger community in the district’s efforts is very important. The county has been and should continue to be active in working with and supporting our school districts efforts to maintain their high level of success. Supporting the districts efforts before the legislature, continuing to work for more local control, are examples of activities that the county should be fully engaged in with our school districts.
Ron Shaffer, District 1 Commissioner candidate
Yes, I am concerned about the stability of funding for Shawnee Mission schools, as well as our other districts and institutions of higher education like Johnson County Community College, KU Edwards, and K-State Olathe. I value the quality of all of our school districts and I am passionate about their success. When we purchased our first home in Prairie Village over 40 years ago the quality of our local schools was of foremost consideration. Home values are increasing and communities continue to grow because of our desirable neighborhoods and excellent schools. Education is an economic driver for the State and Johnson County’s excellence in education attracts businesses and families to locate here.
While funding for the school districts comes through the State Legislature, the citizens of Johnson County, the County Commission and I should, and will continue to work with our representatives in Topeka to ensure strong support for increased funding and local funding flexibility. The Shawnee Mission School District is being pro-active by placing two questions on a mail-in ballot, in February of 2015, to allow an increase of the Local Option (LOB) from 31 to 33. The second question will ask residents to renew bond funds that are retiring.
The county can support education locally by providing quality community resources such as libraries as discussed in item #1 yesterday, and other services such as Johnson County Parks & Recreation (JCPRD). The partnership between JCPRD and our local school districts not only provides valuable educational programs for our students, but also allows working parents access to safe, reliable, and affordable childcare in order to remain in the workplace.
Laura McConwell, District 1 Commissioner candidate
Yes, I am concerned about the funding for our public schools. Our strong public schools are a cornerstone of our County’s success and it is vital that we maintain them. As a County Commissioner I will work with our school districts to ensure strong schools, vibrant communities and safe neighborhoods.
Our schools are governed by their respective school boards and are primarily funded by the state. While the County Commission is not the direct decision-maker for funding or allocating resources within our schools, we have to work together to ensure that we continue our education excellence. Young families and businesses move to communities who value education and have an educated or skilled workforce.
The County provides auxiliary services upon which our schools rely. Examples include our library system where students find books, homework assistance and research aids to complement their school work; before and after school programs through our Parks and Recreation department that benefits many of our students and families; and the health clinic, mental health assistance and developmental services. These services reduce the burden on our school districts and help ready our children for learning. I am committed to maintaining these services.