The three active candidates for the the SM West area seat on the Shawnee Mission Board of Education — incumbent Craig Denny and challengers Laura Guy and Christopher White — on Saturday addressed several of the biggest issues facing the district today during a candidate forum organized by the Shawnee Mission Post.
Before a crowd of nearly 40, the candidates discussed the role of libraries and librarians in modern schools as well as the value of library staff holding certifications; whether the district has enough paraprofessionals and counselors to meet current needs; and board transparency, among other topics. The candidates also took part in a “lightning round,” where they gave brief answers on their positions on issues like sixth grade alignment and administrator pay.
We’ve embedded the video at the bottom of this post. A list of the questions the candidates received (including the lighting round items) is listed below along with the corresponding time in the video where the answers to specific items begin:
- 1.) The Shawnee Mission School Board has long objected to the state’s school finance formula. A specific objection repeated over the years is that Shawnee Mission is in the bottom 10 percent of Kansas schools in per pupil funding. Is this a legitimate measure for assessing the fairness of school finance? What would be more appropriate indicators of Shawnee Mission being treated fairly in school finance? (Answers start at 5:22)
- 2.) Some district patrons who have appeared before the board to make a statement or ask a question over the years have complained that they did not receive an immediate response from the board and that they either did not receive a follow-up response or that the response did not address their question. Lately, the board has instituted new restrictions on what patrons can say when addressing the board. What should the appropriate process be for the board and district in regard to handling patron questions and statements? (Answers start at 12:00)
- 3.) In recent years, schools have seen increased demand for staff members to help address behavior issues and help with at-risk kids, including paras to help with classroom management and social workers to help connect students and families with services. Do you believe the district has enough paras and counselors on staff to address this need and to support teacher instruction in schools with more at-risk students? What else can be done to improve performance at schools that lag behind in standard measures? (Answers start at 18:05)
- 4.) What do you see as the role of school libraries and librarians in the district? Should library certification be required of the staff manning the libraries or media centers? (Answers start at 25:09)
- 5.) Over the years, some schools have been able to supplement both the instructional programs and the physical facilities through private donations or PTA-raised funds. Some examples: after the district dropped elementary school foreign language, certain schools were able to hire instructors to keep it in the curriculum; some schools paid for counseling or nursing services that were being cut by the district; some schools added wood gym floors or science labs to the building. Should all students have equal access to the same programs and facilities regardless of which school they attend? Please explain the philosophy behind your answer. (Answers start at 31:05)
- 6.) The lack of discussion among board members during meetings, accompanied by unanimous votes and large consent agenda have drawn scrutiny from patrons in recent months. Can you describe the process that you believe the board should follow to demonstrate exemplary transparency? (Answers start at 38:00)
- Lightning round (Answers start at 46:02)
- Do you think Sixth Grade should be moved to Middle School?
- Superintendent Jim Hinson was hired in 2013 at a salary of $217,950 before getting a raise in 2014 that brought him to $232,280 and then another raise in the summer of 2015 that brought him to $254,280 in base salary. These raises — and corresponding raises for Hinson’s top deputies — came during a period where the district was decrying its financial situation. Do you think those raises were justified?
- Should time on iPads be limited for students in lower grades?
- The district has recently been reviewing Tax Increment Financing deals that cities have been making. Is this appropriate or does it impede the municipalities’ ability to stimulate economic development?
- Some administrators have implied that closing Mission Valley Middle School was a mistake given the current demographics of the district. Do you agree?
- Do you believe that Middle Schools, in the current configuration of one per high school district, put too many students in a middle school setting?
- Has the Shawnee Mission School District shown sufficient leadership and progress in sustainability?