District distributes document with responses to Shawnee Mission parents’ questions about ethics, bullying, ICE

School board president Sara Goodburn.
School board president Sara Goodburn.

The Shawnee Mission School District this week mailed hard copies of a document providing the board of education’s responses to a variety of questions asked by patrons during the board’s open forum March 27.

You can find a summary of the questions raised by district parents in our story from the meeting here. And you can watch the parents asking their questions of the board in the video below at 1:06:

The district’s responses to those questions are copied below. They were covered with a letter signed by Board president Sara Goodburn:

Below are answers to recent questions asked by members of our community.

Bullying and sexual assaults on school property
In the Shawnee Mission school district, the safety and security of our students is paramount, and we have zero tolerance for bullying and any violent behavior. In every instance, we take extraordinary measures to investigate matters thoroughly and uniformly apply discipline policies and procedures. The district is prohibited by Federal law to discuss student information or details of any disciplinary action to protect our students’ privacy.

Conflict of interest laws
Regarding conflict of interest law – Kansas law clearly defines circumstances when a board member cannot act on a matter due to a conflict of interest. A board member would engage in an impermissible conflict of interest only where he or she voted to approve a contract between the District and a business in which the Board member has a “substantial interest,” which generally means a financial interest. The law defines a “substantial interest” as extending to the board member “or their spouse.” A board member would not have a “substantial interest” in a business when another family member is involved. (75-4301a, 75-4304 and 75-4305)

How consent agendas function
The Board of Education for the Shawnee Mission School District uses a consent agenda, which is a commonly used practice to help boards make productive use of meeting time. The board leadership, along with the administration, prepares an agenda package and sends it to board members to read in advance of the meeting. Consent agenda items are routine and non-controversial. All other business and votes are conducted on an individual basis at board meetings.

Items may appear on a consent agenda only if all board members agree. If even one member considers a specific item to need discussion, it can be removed and placed on the regular agenda for the board meeting. The board is currently developing a board governance and/or operating procedures document that may include more specific information and possible guidelines for board leadership around the use of consent agendas.

Increase of library resources
The district continues to increase resources allocated to improve libraries in the district. As part of the 2015 bond issue, we are making improvements to each of the high school libraries. Shawnee Mission North is the first school to receive significant renovations to the library. The other high schools will also receive library improvements. And, the district has not reduced the number of librarians, now called media specialists.

School finance and partisanship
The district employs a lobbyist, who meets with all our legislators on a regular basis.

In addition, the Shawnee Mission School District hosted a luncheon this fall with all our delegates, including Democrats and Republicans, to discuss legislative priorities. In addition, our district, along with other Johnson County school districts, hosted a delegate’s luncheon in Topeka in January 2017, which was an open discussion about legislative priorities.

Our lobbyist, board members and administrators have ongoing conversations with individual legislators including those in positions of leadership and committee members. Also, Cindy Neighbor, who serves on the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education, is a Democrat and serves in the House of Representatives.

Innovative schools – how schools are selected
The process to determine which schools will be made into innovative schools involves assessing the demographics of the surrounding community, the performance level of the student body and the culture of the school. Every strategy applied to creating an innovative school is research based and has been proven at other school districts around the country.

The district’s policy regarding law enforcement and students
The district is bound by federal law not to disclose any details about our students. Protecting their privacy is paramount in everything we do. While we cannot comment on individual student matters, we can confirm that there was never an ICE agent on our school property. No child was removed from a classroom by ICE or the local police, and no child was arrested. In addition, the district has long-standing policy stating that every law enforcement agency must have a warrant to remove a student from school.
The Shawnee Mission School District does not collect immigration status on students or parents. We are in the business of educating children, and we serve all children who live in our district.

Protocol to review upper level administrators
In accordance with Kansas statute, building and district level administrators are evaluated at least one time per semester (no later than the 60th school day of the semester) during the first two years of employment. During the third and fourth years of employment, building and district administrators are evaluated at least one time each school year (no later than February 15). During and beyond the fifth year of employment, administrators are evaluated at least once every three years (no later than February 15 of the school year in which the employee is evaluated).

Building principals, who evaluate assistant principals, are evaluated by directors from the Leadership and Learning department. Assistant directors and directors are evaluated by the assistant superintendent or deputy superintendent that oversees the operation of their specific department. Cabinet level directors are evaluated by the superintendent or deputy superintendent. The superintendent is evaluated by the Board of Education.

Stipend payments to some administrators
In the instance where an administrator must cover another administrative position, literally doubling and sometimes tripling their work, a stipend will be paid to compensate them for the additional work. Stipends are approved by the board.

An update on the recent crime at SM East
Several weeks ago, outbuildings at SM East were vandalized with spray paint. In addition to images that had sexual connotations, some of the images included abhorrent racial symbols, which could elevate the crime to a federal offense. The district thoroughly investigated this matter, and disciplinary action was taken in accordance with discipline policies and procedures. The district is prohibited by law to disclose any individual student information. All questions about the details of this case should be directed to the Prairie Village Police Department.

Boundary changes
When district leaders consider which schools should be included as part of a boundary change, we look at more than simply enrollment numbers and building capacity. We consider the types of services we offer in each building. For instance, a building with a high autistic community will have a lower enrollment to allow for additional staff members, a sensory classroom, and smaller class sizes designed for those students.

The current boundary changes are being considered to accommodate changing population numbers on the west side of the district. New construction, including multiple apartment buildings, will significantly increase the population in that area. In addition, there is a new school being built in Lenexa that will impact boundaries. Briarwood is not being considered for a boundary change because it is not being impacted by new “doorways” being added to the area. And, its surrounding schools are at capacity.

There are two ways individuals can voice comments about the proposed boundary changes. There will be two community forums where comments about the proposed boundary changes will be heard:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 Shawnee Mission Northwest 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017 Shawnee Mission West 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Concerned individuals can also write an email to provide detailed feedback at smsdboundaries@smsd.org. A final boundary recommendation will be presented to the Board for a vote at the May 22 meeting.

Expansion of communications department
It was apparent with feedback from patrons, stakeholders, employees and community members that communication from the district was an important factor and needed to improve. This priority was included in the district’s comprehensive strategic plan. Therefore, the district is devoting additional resources to modernize our communications and improve transparency.