Shawnee Mission Board peppered with questions from public on topics including bullying, ethics, transparency and finance

The school board Monday listened to more than 20 comments from the public. Comments were limited to three minutes and timed.
The school board Monday listened to more than 20 comments from the public. Comments were limited to three minutes and timed.

Monday’s meeting of the Shawnee Mission School Board was filled with lots of questions and very few answers. The public comments covered a wide range of subjects including school bullying, boundary changes, hate crimes, board member ethics and law enforcement entering the school.

Twenty-one members of the public addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting, many asking specific questions of the board. Each time a question was posed, Board President Sara Goodburn explained that neither the board, nor administrative staff, respond to questions as they are asked during the meeting. She promised that each questioner would receive a response in the coming days.

The lack of immediate response did not sit well with the overflow crowd. “(Do) you realize how ridiculous this sounds,” asked parent Jeff Passan. People have legitimate questions about transparency, he said. Passan also asked the board to publish the answers to each of the questions on its website.

Here is a roundup of Monday’s questions and comments:

School bullying
Two fathers and their daughters talked about the daughters’ separate experiences with being bullied in school. Both of the girls said they had been forced to change schools. The fathers were critical of the school’s handling of the situations.

Ethics questions
Genna Stowe asked if the board members would be exerting pressure on Board Member Deb Zila to step down based on “recent ethics questions.” Zila has been the subject of reports on her daughter’s employment with a school district vendor.

Sexual assault
A parent complained that a student was left in place in school after incidents of sexual assault were reported involving the student. She asked why procedures were not followed to protect other students.

Briarwood incident
At least three parents, two who identified themselves as attorneys, questioned the district’s explanation of an incident at Briarwood School about a student being removed from the school by law enforcement. They asked for a more complete explanation of what actually happened.

Transparency
Many parents are “frustrated” by the lack of transparency at the school board, Blake Hodges told the board. He asked why so many issues are handled on the consent agenda, asserting it does not allow the public to see how board members are thinking about an issue.

Overcrowding
Jim Wehner said inequity seems to exist across the district from west to east. The district he said, had noted 450 to 500 students was ideal for an elementary, but Briarwood now has 587 and will get more with early education children moving in. “The students at Briarwood are being underserved,” he said.

School finance partisanship
Tiffany Johnson asked why Superintendent Jim Hinson met only with Republicans concerning his proposal for school finance reform and why it would be a partisan issue.

New administrative positions
A parent asked why two new administrative positions were created to fill a communications job when Leigh Anne Neal took on a new job in early childhood for the district.

Library staff
A parent asked why the district is cutting library and certified librarians when research, she said, shows it helps with college readiness.

Innovative schools
A parent asked if the district had looked at the results of the first innovative school project and why the two schools in the program were chosen.

Staff stipend
A parent asked why two administrators were given $10,000 stipends when they already were making high-level salaries.

Boundary changes
A parent complained that planned boundary changes will force a groups of students to cross I-435 to get to their new school.

Administrator evaluations
A parent asked how school administrators, whom she said are “paid very well” are evaluated.

Shawnee Mission Post will attempt to obtain the answers the district provides to these questions and publish the responses.