A voter’s guide to SMSD’s $264 million bond issue — ballots due Jan. 26

The district is proposing a raft of major building projects if the bond issue is approved, including the complete rebuilding of five elementary schools. District officials say passage will also free up funds to hire dozens of secondary teachers to help alleviate teacher workload concerns. File photo. 

Registered voters living within the boundaries of Shawnee Mission Schools have begun receiving mail-in ballots for this month’s $264 million bond issue in the district. 

This is a mail-in only election. Ballots are due to the Johnson County Election Office in Olathe by noon, Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Information about how you can securely return your ballot can be found here.

Post editor Kyle Palmer recently hosted a conversation on Facebook Live via Zoom with SMSD Superintendent Mike Fulton and SM North math teacher Jill Johnson. They both answered readers’ questions and discussed the implications of the bond issue on the district and teachers. 

You can watch the entire conversation at the Post’s Facebook page, and the video is also embedded below.

Here are some questions that were asked during the conversation with Fulton and Johnson. 

What will the revenues raised by the bonds pay for? 

  • five elementary schools will be completely rebuilt: Pawnee, Diemer, Westwood View, Rushton and Tomahawk
  • retrofitting the Broadmoor Center, the district’s Early Childhood Education Center to make it more accessible for younger learners
  • renovating the district’s Career and Technical Campus to better accommodate more career-based programs
  • renovating restrooms and replacing classroom furniture at the district’s middle and high schools
  • upgrading heating and cooling systems and lighting in buildings across the district
  • replacing and upgrading equipment at playgrounds to make them more ADA accessible
  • replacing roofs on buildings across the district

What is the timeline for the 5 elementary schools to be rebuilt?

  • If the bonds are approved, work would begin on rebuilding Diemer and Westwood View in summer 2021.
  • Pawnee would come next in late 2021/early 2022.
  • Rushton and Tomahawk would follow completion of work at Diemer and Westwood View, likely in early 2023.
  • For a fuller timeline and schedule for the proposed elementary rebuilds, read the Post’s coverage here.

Why were those elementary schools chosen?

  • Fulton said those five schools are among the oldest in the district and have been identified as in need of the most upkeep and repairs.

The district also says passage of this bond issue will help alleviate teacher workload concerns. How? 

  • The bonds, if passed, will pay for the new elementary schools. New facilities, Fulton noted, have historically been paid for out of the district’s capital fund.
  • If those new schools will be paid for with bond revenues instead of out of the capital fund, Fulton said, it will allow the district to shift $5.4 million in salaries for custodial and maintenance staff from the district’s operating budget over to its capital fund.
  • That, in turn, will free up $5.4 million in the district’s operating budget to go towards hiring dozens of new middle and high school teachers.
  • For more on the district’s explanation of this budgetary maneuvering, read here.

Why is hiring more teachers potentially a big deal in Shawnee Mission? 

  • Hiring more teachers will eventually allow secondary teachers’ class load to be reduced from the current 6 periods a day to 5 periods a day.
  • SM North teacher Jill Johnson said this will free up teachers to collaborate more during school hours — doing things like planning lessons and looking at student data.
  • It would also reduce the overall number of students each teacher has responsibility for.
  • Teacher work load was a major point of contention during last year’s drawn-out negotiations over a new teacher contract.
  • Secondary teachers in other Johnson County districts teach 5 periods a day, and SMSD teachers have complained for years that 6 periods a day is unsustainable and leads to burnout.

OK, but what is this going to do to my taxes? 

  • To pay for the bonds, the district is proposing raising its mill levy — the rate of property taxes on assessed value.
  • The proposed increase would add roughly $8 per year per $100,000 of assessed value for a SMSD homeowner’s annual bill. So, a homeowner with a $300,000 home would pay roughly $24 more per year in property taxes if this bond issue is approved.
  • It’s worth noting that even with this proposed increase, Shawnee Mission would still have the lowest mill levy of any Johnson County public school district.

Read more of the Post’s coverage on the 2021 bond issue