Parents and taxpayers in the Shawnee Mission School District are working through their most important public decision in a generation: picking a new school superintendent.
And many of those patrons are quick to point out job one for the new superintendent: Cut spending at district headquarters.
According to figures for 2017, 85 Shawnee Mission District employees earn more than $100,000 annually. That includes a deputy superintendent, five assistant superintendents, 14 department directors, a chief academic officer, a chief financial officer, and three coordinators.
By contrast, the Olathe School District, with 1,700 more students and 350 more employees, pays just 62 workers more than $100,000 a year.
The top 20 earners in the Shawnee Mission District all work as administrators, not front-line school principals. Former superintendent Jim Hinson appears to have left behind an expensive, top-heavy bureaucracy.
That should change.
Quality education remains the most important policy objective in Johnson County. It’s the key to high property values, a growing economy and community safety.
Yet the nature of education and the district itself are changing. The Shawnee Mission district enrolls some of the county’s most economically challenged students — roughly 37 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. In some schools, nine out of 10 students qualify.
At the same time, some of the area’s wealthiest families send their kids to schools in the district. School officials must bridge those widely different demographics to ensure a quality education for every family.
Technology is changing what teachers do and how they do it. The curriculum must meet the needs of employers and students. Federal aid for schools is slipping away.
All of this comes against a background of intense political infighting over school finance and taxes. The 2018 Kansas legislative session will almost certainly center on the state Supreme Court’s opinion that the state’s schools are underfunded and unfair.
The new Shawnee Mission superintendent will have to negotiate a minefield of competing and sometimes contradictory concerns. That task will be harder if he or she must defend millions spent on salaries at headquarters.
Some of that money should be used to hire teachers and reduce class sizes. Candidates for the Shawnee Mission job should offer plans to do so.
Eliminating waste is important to district taxpayers, who have shown enormous support for both capital improvement and operational expenditures over the years.
But it’s absolutely critical for state lawmakers, who will have to decide if taxes should be increased for schools.
We unequivocally support quality education. We’ve urged state lawmakers to fully fund the schools. Making sure every dollar is being spent wisely is the only way to accomplish that goal.
Efficient, transparent spending is essential. World-class schools, in Shawnee Mission and elsewhere, depend on it.