Incoming members implore Shawnee Mission School Board to postpone consideration of contract extension for Southwick

Dr. Kenny Southwick. (File photo).
Dr. Kenny Southwick. (File photo).

The presence of a new three-year contract for Interim Superintendent Kenny Southwick on the agenda for tonight’s Shawnee Mission Board of Education meeting prompted all three incoming members of the school board to issue statements Friday asking that a vote on the matter be delayed until they are seated.

In statements posted on social media as well as in messages sent to sitting members of the board, the three argued that given the fact voters had chosen a significant change in the makeup of the board and that the group would soon be working to choose a new superintendent, it didn’t make sense to extend Southwick’s guaranteed term. Southwick’s current contract with the district expires in June 2020 and has base salary of $195,500 per year. The new contract would essentially extend his guaranteed term through June 2021.

Guy expressed frustration with the inclusion of the item on the agenda, saying that the outgoing board members’ final meeting should have been a time to recognize them for their decades of service to the district. Instead, she said, it will likely be a meeting that sees patrons frustrated with the sitting board members.

“The timing of this is wrong for two reasons – the three new Board members should be seated first and the new superintendent should get to decided who he/she wants for a deputy superintendent,” Guy wrote. “This Monday is the last Board meeting for Craig Denny, Cindy Neighbor and Donna Bysfield. It could have been an opportunity to express our gratitude for their decades of service to our district. Instead, now it will be a contentious meeting with patrons expressing their displeasure. It didn’t have to be this way.”

In a response to Guy, current board vice chair Brad Stratton, who will take over as president once Craig Denny leaves office next month, said he agreed with her that it would be more appropriate to consider a contract extension for Southwick after the new members are seated.

Stratton noted that it has been board custom to review top administrators’ contracts each December, but that given the huge changes in leadership over the past year, he would be asking his fellow members to postpone the vote.

“While it has been a regular practice over the past couple years to revisit the existing contracts of the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent for a possible contract extension in December, much has changed in the school district since December of last year. With the retirement of the superintendent in June, a search for a new superintendent now in process and the election of three new board members to begin their new four-year terms next month, we sit at a different place in time today than we did one year ago,” Stratton wrote. “It is for these reasons and new circumstances that have developed over the past year that I will be asking my board colleagues at the upcoming board meeting to consider the postponement of this decision to extend the current contract until the January 22nd board meeting so as to include the input and consideration of the new board members.”

The full messages posted by Sinclair, Guy, Ousley and Stratton on the matter are below:

Mary Sinclair

Shawnee Mission School Board members,

I am writing to ask that the agenda item to extend the deputy superintendent’s three-year contract beyond June 30, 2020, be tabled until the new board is seated. For me, this decision is not a referendum on our current deputy superintendent to whom the district has an agreement for another 2.5 years. Rather, I view this agenda item as a decision about oversight of district resources and about the role of a deputy superintendent in relation to the superintendent.

As each of you are aware, the board’s most immediate responsibility is to hire a new superintendent. Our capacity to work together, to stand for a set common goals and vision, is important to the search process. A demonstration of the new board’s capacity to work through this contract decision would speak clearly to potential candidates. As an incoming board member in this time of transition, I had assumed that this vote would rest on my shoulders.

I believe that the new board can find common ground in our mutual goal to provide Shawnee Mission students with equitable opportunities to be career and college ready.

Thank you for your consideration.

Mary F Sinclair

Heather Ousley

I have received messages and emails from people concerned about the contract extending Dr. Southwick’s term as Deputy Superintendent. The concerns appear to primarily be that the next Superintendent will want to select their own Deputy, and there doesn’t appear to be flexibility in the contract to shift Dr. Southwick into another position in such a scenario, leaving the SMSD responsible for his three years of pay. As a result, I, like you, am reaching out to current board members to ask them to potentially delay this vote. Even if the contract has more flexibility then I understand at this time, this flexibility needs to be made very clear, and delaying the vote a few weeks so that new board members are making the decision binding the new board, will help ease concerns.

Laura Guy

I have tried to keep quiet during this time of Board transition so that I can listen and learn. But I am very disappointed that this 3-year contract for Dr. Southwick is on the agenda for Monday night’s meeting. The timing of this is wrong for two reasons – the three new Board members should be seated first and the new superintendent should get to decided who he/she wants for a deputy superintendent.

This Monday is the last Board meeting for Craig Denny, Cindy Neighbor and Donna Bysfield. It could have been an opportunity to express our gratitude for their decades of service to our district. Instead, now it will be a contentious meeting with patrons expressing their displeasure. It didn’t have to be this way.

Note from Brad Stratton to Laura Guy

Dear Laura,

Thank you for the email and for taking the time to share your perspective and concerns about the proposed contract extension for the Deputy Superintendent on the December 18th board agenda. I appreciate your sharing these thoughts with me and I will be sure to take them into consideration as we discuss and deliberate this proposed contract extension.

The current contract of the Deputy Superintendent was presented and approved last year (December 19, 2016) and is in effect until June 30, 2020. The proposed contract extension that will be discussed at the upcoming board meeting is to extend this existing contract for an additional year to June 30, 2021. While it has been a regular practice over the past couple years to revisit the existing contracts of the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent for a possible contract extension in December, much has changed in the school district since December of last year. With the retirement of the superintendent in June, a search for a new superintendent now in process and the election of three new board members to begin their new four-year terms next month, we sit at a different place in time today than we did one year ago.

It is for these reasons and new circumstances that have developed over the past year that I will be asking my board colleagues at the upcoming board meeting to consider the postponement of this decision to extend the current contract until the January 22nd board meeting so as to include the input and consideration of the new board members.

Thank you again for your email and for your continued interest in the Shawnee Mission School District.

Happy Holidays,
Brad Stratton