That Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools board member Wanda Kay Paige is still on the district’s payroll should raise eyebrows. But according to a strict interpretation of Kansas statutes, Paige may be within her right to serve.
Paige was an educator in the district for 30 years. She retired in 2012 at age 55. She is still collecting checks from the district after taking an early retirement option. Per the terms of her agreement, she was paid about $19,650 during the 2017-18 school year.
The agreement ends in September.
Paige also receives compensation through the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, or KPERS. She is on the district’s payroll only because of Internal Revenue Service requirements.
“I’m getting pretty much what’s due to me,” Paige said Friday after her situation was reported by The Star.
The first-year board member added that none of this was an issue during her campaign last year.
“I did what is right,” she said, adding she believes the dustup is a result of petty politics — not actual policy questions.
Kansas law states active teachers cannot serve as school board members. A teacher cannot be both an employee and an employer, according to a 2000 Kansas Supreme Court ruling.
The key word is active. Paige is retired.
The Kansas Attorney General’s office has refused to comment because a request for a legal opinion on the matter is still pending.
The kerfuffle about Paige’s arrangement comes at an important moment for the district. Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools will welcome a new superintendent in August. Test scores and graduation rates need to improve. Anonymous emails, threats of litigation, and board infighting aren’t helping.
The children of the district deserve a competent and efficient board.
Watchdog groups say no one on a school district’s payroll who is classified as an “employee” for IRS purposes — whether that person is actively employed or not — should be on a school board.
Donna Whiteman, an attorney for the Kansas Association of School Boards, counters that argument. As long as Paige is not teaching full-time in the district, she is allowed to serve on the board, Whiteman said. Money owed to Paige is a negotiated agreement.
“We have people who run after they retire, and they can sit on the board once they retire, even though they might be getting retirement benefits or getting KPERS,” Whiteman said.
Whiteman may be correct. But the ethical dilemma in this situation cannot be ignored. Paige’s case highlights the potential issues a conflict like this creates. And any hint of impropriety must be avoided.
A public watchdog group offers this guidance for any school district employee who sits on the school board to follow:
1. After being elected, send a blanket disclosure to the Secretary of State’s office.
2. Disclose any conflicts of interest as they pop up on the agenda.
3. Do not engage in the discussion around that agenda item.
4. Do not vote on the agenda item.
5. Note the conflict of interest in the meeting’s minutes.
More legal questions need to be answered about Paige’s unusual and somewhat uncomfortable arrangement. In the meantime, the Kansas City, Kansas board of education should to put aside their differences and get back to the business of educating kids.