Meeting the challenges of state funding legislation was at the top of the list of priorities for candidates running for two spots on the Shawnee Mission school board. The candidates hope the district can manage to keep expenses low while still maintaining the district’s reputation as one of excellence.
Shawnee Mission has undergone some changes in the past year and a half. In 2013, the district hired a new superintendent, Jim Hinson. Last year, it began a big new program that put laptops and electronic tablets in the hands of its students.
Last year the district also offered a retirement incentive package to teachers. A reorganization of the district’s administration is also in progress.
Two of the board’s seven spots have contested races April 7. For Position 1, challenger Mark Ellis and incumbent Sara Goodburn are on the ballot, and Chris Cindric is running as a write-in candidate. Position 7, which is an at-large position, has newcomers Elizabeth Rulo and Brad Stratton as candidates.
Ellis’ campaign and Facebook pages say his priorities are making sure more of the district’s money reaches the classroom and ensuring the district offers a curriculum with life skills as well as college prep. In an email to The Star, he said technology is important for learning, but reserves judgment on whether every student should have a device. His Facebook page also mentions that he traveled to Topeka to support the parental “opt-in” bill on sex education.
Ellis’ websites identify him as a conservative Republican who complained to the district about a year ago regarding a poster at Hocker Grove Middle School with information on sexual expression he thought was inappropriate for the age. The district later removed the poster.
Goodburn said building a 10-year strategic plan with the superintendent and strong academics is at the center of her campaign for re-election. She said she wants to continue the good relationship between the board and teachers and administrators that district has had over the years. “We’ve always had really good boards in Shawnee Mission” that have done a good job of understanding patrons’ needs and collaborating with the superintendent, she said.
The technology program putting electronic devices in students’ hands has gone well overall, she said, but some aspects of it, such as the insurance fee charged to parents, will be tweaked. The district may move more to self-insure the devices, and also plans to change middle school devices to Mac Book Airs, with the iPads they had before being sent to the elementary schools, she said.
Cindric joined the campaign March 17 and will run as a write-in. She said she was inspired to run because of concerns about the Kansas Legislature’s funding plan for schools.
Cindric, a former school psychologist in the district, said the school board members need to speak up more for the district to defend against cuts from the statehouse.
While she didn’t specifically oppose the retirement package offered to teachers, Cindric said she thought the district would lose a lot of teaching experience as older teachers made way for younger ones.
The district should have been better prepared for the technology program, she said. She added that she would protect the district, and does not want to see reductions in special education. She said the district should trust its teachers for such things as literature curriculum and not gravitate toward readings that are guaranteed to offend no one.
Rulo listed funding as her primary concern. She said the school board has entered into new programs recklessly without properly vetting them first. For example, she said, the technology program has to be corrected because of problems the first year of its operation. She said not every student has Wi-Fi access, and she doesn’t think it is appropriate to ask them to do their work at a fast food restaurant or the library. The program also had connectivity problems, Rulo said.
Rulo also is concerned about the implementation of Common Core standards, saying they take away teachers’ ability to teach and concentrate too much on test scores and not enough on homework and performance. Common Core is a set of expectations of what students should know.
Stratton said his issues are to retain and recruit the best teachers, enhance collaborations with local and state officials and address programming challenges for all students.
He said the district should build upon the technology program it started last year. In general, Stratton said, he has positive feelings about the program, although certain aspects need to be adjusted.
He said the school board should become more involved in advocating for the district to state legislators, rather than just sending a lobbyist and superintendent. He said his background as a governmental affairs volunteer for the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce would help him be effective in that.
The retirement package, Stratton said, is the first step in rewarding teachers for their service. The district should provide attractive programs, benefits and a good work environment to compete with other districts to attract the best teachers, he said.
Education: Paseo High School, 1980
Occupation: Small business consultant
Elected experience: None
Website: markellisforshawneemission.com; facebook.com/markellisforshawneemission
Education: Bachelor’s in journalism, University of Kansas, 1986
Occupation: Community volunteer
Elected experience: Shawnee Mission Board of Education 2011-present
Website: facebook.com/pages/Sara-Goodburn-for-SMSD-School-Board; goodburnforsmschools.com
Education: Bachelor’s in psychology and French, Kansas State University, 1973; education specialist in school psychology, University of Kansas, 1975
Occupation: Targeted case manager for children and adults with disabilities
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor’s in interior design, University of Missouri-Columbia, 1984
Occupation: Independent manufacturer’s representative for manufacturers of contract furniture
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor’s in business administration, Emporia State University 1986
Occupation: Investment manager
Elected experience: Shawnee Mission School District Advisory Board, 2002-04