With 1 meeting to go before new members are seated, Shawnee Mission board will consider new 3 year contract for Southwick

Dr. Kenny Southwick, seen here at a meeting with Briarwood parents in 2015.
Dr. Kenny Southwick, seen here at a meeting with Briarwood parents in 2015.

At the last scheduled meeting before three new members are seated Jan. 8, the Shawnee Mission Board of Education on Monday is set to consider a new three-year contract for current Interim Superintendent Kenny Southwick.

Under the terms of the contract, Southwick would resume his position as deputy superintendent starting next school year and be paid $195,500 per year through June 2021. If approved, the contract extension would ensure that Southwick, who was brought on by then-Superintendent Jim Hinson in 2014, remained in the number-two spot in the administration for some time regardless of who the new board hires as its next full-term superintendent. Southwick’s current contract expires in June 2020, so the new contract would effectively represent a one year extension for Southwick.

The inclusion of the contract that would extend Southwick’s guaranteed term on Monday’s board agenda drew criticism from some district patrons, who suggest it is an in appropriate effort by the outgoing board majority to hold on to the Hinson era. Monday is the final meeting that Craig Denny, the SM West area representative who will be replaced by Laura Guy Jan. 8, will serve as board president and have control over the meeting agenda.

A post on the anonymously run Facebook page SMSD Watchdogs picked the contract proposal apart, suggesting that the board should at least wait until new members Mary Sinclair, Laura Guy and Heather Ousley are seated before committing to such a substantial personnel decision.

“This [contract] is binding and means that even if the new superintendent doesn’t want to continue to use Kenny Southwick as a deputy superintendent he will still get paid, one way or another,” reads the post. “[It’s] too much money for an outgoing board to promise to spend on any one person right now. The contract does not need to happen this month.”

New superintendents often want to bring in their own staff, as was evidenced by Hinson’s nearly complete overhaul of the district cabinet — moves that cost taxpayers significant money.

When Hinson came to the district in 2013, he clashed with then-Deputy Superintendent Bob DiPierro, according to several sources familiar with the workings of the district at the time. DiPierro and the district reached a retirement agreement that paid him $223,406 for the 2014-15 school year though he did not serve in a day-to-day administrative role during that time. After his official retirement in April 2015, DiPierro has been paid $15,515 per year for health insurance premiums. Those payments will end in 2018. Under the terms of the agreement, DiPierro also receives $1,625 per month through July 2018. SM South representative Deb Zila described those payments as “consulting fees” when the agreement was reached, but DiPierro has not been a visible presence in any sense since the agreement was signed.

Southwick is being paid $34,500 this year on top of his base salary of $195,500 to compensate for his additional duties as interim superintendent.