Board of education approves new manual that requires disclosure of conflicts of interest, formalizes restrictions on open forum comments

The Shawnee Mission School District's Center for Academic Achievement.
The Shawnee Mission School District’s Center for Academic Achievement.

The Shawnee Mission Board of Education on Monday adopted a new manual of procedures that formalizes a number of guidelines that had been only loosely organized in the past.

The 16 page document lays out board members roles and responsibilities as well as how they are to communicate with each other, the administration and members of the community.

The new policy manual provides explicit direction on disclosures of conflicts of interest, an issue that had raised concerns among a number of patrons earlier this year following the revelation that SM South area representative Deb Zila’s daughter Mallory had be hired for an in-district job with insurance broker CBIZ. Zila made the motion to approve a new $400,000 contract with CBIZ in January without noting the connection or recusing herself.

The new board manual stipulates that board members “recognize conflict of interests, disclose such interests to the board president and superintendent and recuse yourself from related action.”

The manual also makes official a guideline that restricts what patrons are allowed to discuss during open forum. That guideline dictates that “complaints against individual board members and/or individual employees” are “inappropriate” during open forum. The language used in the board manual is less restrictive that what has been published as part of the board agenda in recent months, where patrons were banned from any mention of a district employee, regardless of whether the comments were positive or negative. The open forum guideline had been published on the agenda this year at the discretion of board presidents Sara Goodburn and Craig Denny.

In May, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a stern letter to the board regarding the open forum restriction after then-president Goodburn used it to halt parent Jeff Passan from raising concerns about Zila’s conflict of interest on the CBIZ vote.

The board workshopped the manual over the course of several meetings earlier this year.

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