Calling support for public education one of the hallmarks of Johnson County society, Board of County Commissioners Chair Ed Eilert on Tuesday said ensuring public schools maintain their reputation for excellence was key to the county’s success for the future.
“It is essential that our K-12 schools be allowed to continue to deliver outstanding classroom instruction and that higher education and career opportunities continue to be a priority,” Eilert said during his annual State of the County address.
Before a crowd of more than 650 at the Ritz Charles in Overland Park, Eilert noted a number of milestones from the past several years. Eilert, who touted a track record of fiscal responsibility throughout his November re-election campaign, pointed out that Johnson County had weathered the difficult years of the Great Recession without having to raise its mill levy, which remains the lowest in the state. With the economy on the mend, Johnson County’s December jobless rate was the lowest in 15 years. And more than 40 percent of the new jobs created in the state in 2014 were created in Johnson County.
While he touched on a range of issues – from parks and libraries to road and airports – Eilert returned to the theme of education several times throughout the speech. He categorized the county’s strong public schools as a crucial economic driver.
“The early and continuing strong support for our public education system is the bedrock on which our county’s neighborhoods and business community has been built,” he said. “The strength and quality of our education system decade-after decade has attracted residents and businesses to our communities and has made the difference in advancing the economic success we enjoy today.”
Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Jim Hinson said after the speech he agreed with the tenor of Eilert’s remarks, and that whatever school funding mechanism lawmakers develop in the coming years should not handicap Johnson County schools.
“Commissioner Eilert commented today about the economic engine that Johnson County is for the rest of the state, and that needs to be recognized in the formula,” Hinson said. “Johnson County is so very important to the rest of the state. Don’t punish us. We want to make sure every child in the state has a great education, and that’s important. But don’t punish us in the process. We are helping drive that economic engine that really benefits every student in the entire state of Kansas.”