‘Show some empathy’: Teachers, supporters keep pressure on Shawnee Mission board to address workload issues

Teachers and supporters gave a loud round of applause to members of the Fosburg family after they spoke to the board of education detailing the impact Shawnee Mission teachers have had on the kids’ lives.

Emotions were running high Monday as teachers, parents and students once again packed the Center for Academic Achievement to put pressure on the Shawnee Mission Board of Education and Superintendent Mike Fulton to approve a new contract with better working conditions and compensation for teachers.

Seventeen speakers approached the podium during public comment — a number of them delivering their remarks through tears — to make the case for the conclusion of work on a contract for the current school year, an issue that has dragged on since negotiation discussions began this spring. It was the fourth school board meeting in a row that teachers and supporters, most decked in red, came out in force to put pressure on the administration and board to bring the issue to a close.

Teachers held up signs as speakers again asked the board to take action on a contract.

Increased workloads and expectations of educators to do more than teach again came to the fore, with teachers and parents listing off the many roles and responsibilities outside of classroom instruction that teachers take on. Monday’s meeting saw some of the most pointed criticisms of the members of the board and administration to date, with a number of students and parents expressing disbelief and indignation at the lack of a contract.

One student listed off all of the teachers who have had a significant impact on her education and development, and contrasted her familiarity with those teachers against the relative anonymity of the district administrators.

“You sat here and smiled and nodded through the past two meetings through public comments and I beg of you to show some empathy,” said Annalissa Houser, a senior at SM Northwest. “I cannot fathom how you have sat here and looked at these teachers with straight faces as they tell you their stories that have brought me to tears. Few of my peers would even recognize your name, Dr. Fulton.”

Emory Apodaca, a student at SM East, told the board it was their job to come up with a contract that gave teachers the resources they needed to support their students — that meant hiring more teachers and reducing their teaching loads.

“I am disgusted by this board’s constant disrespect for my teachers as both educators and as people,” Apodaca said. “You are not doing enough.”

After the speakers had concluded their remarks, Fulton briefly addressed the situation, saying that the district was bound by the state-mandated fact finding process and could not take action until the meeting that’s been set for Jan. 9. He asked the audience to not “interpret our silence as not listening,” saying that “we have some restrictions on us” about negotiating in a public forum.

“It pains me when I hear personal comments about me. But I’m listening. And I care about you,” Fulton said.

Fulton announced earlier in the meeting that the National Education Association-Shawnee Mission and administration had come to an agreement that will provide a $45 per month per employee contribution toward health insurance premiums starting Jan. 1. Many teachers will see health insurance costs increase at the beginning of 2020, and without a contract approved, they would have born the entire brunt of the increase without any offset from the district.

He also noted that the district had posted all of the information it had assembled for the fact finder prior to the January meeting on a new hub on the district’s website called Information Central.