Brian Koon to challenge Cindy Neighbor for at-large position, setting up first contested election on Shawnee Mission school board

Brian Koon. Photo via Facebook.
Brian Koon. Photo via Facebook.

Brian Koon, the husband of a Shawnee Mission School District teacher and parent of two students at Crestview Elementary School, has filed to run for the at-large Shawnee Mission School Board position held by Cindy Neighbor since 1997.

Koon, who was involved in the early Game On marches to Topeka in support of more school funding and currently serves as a lobbyist for the organization Kansas Families for Education, said he first became concerned about the direction of the district when Superintendent Jim Hinson and the board of education tacked away from the bulk of the Kansas education community — including a number of legislators who represent the district in the statehouse — and supported the block grant school funding bill passed in 2015.

“Every day still I think we’d be in such a different situation if we still had that funding formula,” he said. “And now we’re having to fight to get something like that funding formula passed again. A school board that [supported the block grants when few other districts were], to me, that raises concerns about being out of touch.”

Koon also cited the recent controversy over the district’s communication to employees that wearing safety pins was a political message not appropriate for the classroom.

“It seems like such a ridiculous thing to consider that political speech, and it calls into question the judgment of the board,” he said. “And when you have issues like that come up that cause pushback and take the district’s energy, that means we’re not talking about educating kids.”

He said he agreed with the sentiments expressed by the wave of patrons who flooded Monday’s school board meeting that the board’s dealings are not nearly transparent enough. With so many issues that come before the board, even potentially difficult or controversial ones, handled as part of a consent agenda, parents have almost no insight into the board’s thinking, he said. Nearly every vote the board takes is unanimous.

“It’s shocking that things that need to be thought through and discussed are just put on a consent agenda,” he said. “Things that should be considered carefully or could be contentious, they’re voted on 7-0 every time. And what I really don’t understand is why there aren’t questions being asked [in public by members of the board]?”

Koon said he’s heard from a number of district teachers in recent months about concerns they have with district-wide policies that have an effect on how they conduct their classrooms. Many teachers, he said, feel that if they speak up about problems they’re having, they may face retaliation from the administration.

“Good leadership, management and administration listens to dissenting voices,” he said. “The big problem I have with the administration is that it seems to be okay with a climate where its most critical employees feel like there is a climate of fear. There should be not fear of retaliation for speaking out about what you think would be best for your classroom.”

Neighbor announced in early February she planned to seek a sixth term on the school board, though the county election office shows that she has yet to formally file. In her last reelection cycle in 2013, she defeated political newcomer Mark Read 60-40.

Neighbor is also a sitting member of the Kansas House of Representatives, representing District 18 as a Democrat.

Both SM West representative Craig Denny and SM East representative Donna Bysfield have announced they plan to seek reelection to the board as well. To date, no other candidates have filed in those races.