Today, the three candidates for the at-large seat on the Shawnee Mission School District board weigh in on the cost-cutting challenges facing the administration:
Over the past two years, the district has cut $20 million from its budget, and is currently seeking input from patrons about where to make future cuts. Is it realistic to think the district can make ends meet without further increasing class sizes? If not, what cuts can be made to minimize the impact on the classroom?
As an educator with experiences spanning over 30 years in public, private, and parochial schools in rural, urban and suburban settings, I can tell you that maintaining smaller classes is common to all as a key to a high quality education. I am not in favor of further increases in teacher pupil ratios. I am also not in favor of eliminating art, music or athletics programs.Reducing administrators and their support staff, examining facility usage, operations and maintenance, and identifying new resources for the district should be given a high priority. The former director of operations and maintenance for the Olathe School District realized substantial cost savings by instituting sustainability measures throughout his district. Blue Valley installed a geothermal heating and cooling system in its classrooms at the Wilderness Science Center ten years ago. Some of the largest engineering and energy consulting firms in the nation are located in our community. The district has not taken advantage of the expertise of these companies in designing and evaluating its facilities or operations.
The new board must draw on the strong community of support for the district and bring patrons, business leaders and representatives of local and state government to the table to identify new resources, programs and practices to build a new path for our district. I have worked with teachers and business and community partners to bring over a half million dollars in programs and equipment to area schools. Businesses have stepped forward because excellent schools and a well-educated workforce at their doorstep provide a positive return on their investment. These alliances should be expanded to benefit Shawnee Mission.
John St. Clair:
Since the beginning of the campaign, I am the only candidate that has been advocating a consistent use of technology to survey the needs and desires of the District’s constituents. I was very happy to see the District is already using one of my ideas to gather input related to the potential budget cuts.That said, the District has endured numerous cuts to date and will most likely have to cut more to make ends meet. In my career as an efficiency expert for school districts, I have conducted what is called an Efficiency Review or Performance Review. I’ve worked for some of the largest school districts across the country including the Los Angeles Unified School District, the New York City Board of Education, the Cleveland City School District, the Austin Independent School District, and Denver Public Schools. I’ve also worked for several local and regional districts like Blue Valley and Boulder Valley. In each case, I was able to find inefficiencies in areas like custodial, maintenance and food service, and even in human resources. Because I’ve seen these inefficiencies and know what to look for, I would pursue audits and resulting cuts in these areas first. I am the only candidate with this experience, and I believe it makes me uniquely qualified to serve and hit the ground running.
Taken further, administrative and classroom technologies and sustainability policies could be implemented to reduce printing and paper expenses. I recommend SMSD initiate a pilot program based on Johnson County Community College’s PaperCut – where students and teachers are allowed a quota of printing and following that, charges are assessed. This would not be used as a revenue generating tool, but rather to make each person reconsider the necessity of each print job and how to maximize print space.
We can minimize the impact to the classroom if we take a hard look at all areas of District operations. We will find savings, though popular items may end up on the chopping block. A fresh set of eyes from an efficiency expert that has seen these reforms in other similar districts and industries will provide a more in-depth analysis of true needs versus the sacred cows of the past. I will do everything I can to keep cuts away from the classroom.
We need leadership that challenges conventional thinking on “revenue.” All of our schools are significantly underfunded. My opponents are running on their history of trying to change the state funding formula and being able to “do the best we can” with what the state gives us. This won’t allow us to recommit to excellence. Here are the actions we should fully explore before increasing class sizes.Hold administrators accountable for increasing the number of kids who live in Shawnee Mission selecting our schools. We lose too many to private schools and home schooling. More aggressive outreach by trained building administrators and enhanced programs could get the rate from over 20 percent attending private school to 12 percent and fill much of the budget gap.
We should charge more for services not core to the enterprise of education including parking, transportation, college placement counseling and use of district facilities by other groups. We should thoughtfully explore advertising and sponsorships in our schools, even allowing some on our contracted buses and other high visibility places. These are preferable to increasing class sizes.
We need mechanisms that allow our patrons to define high standards and fund them. Whether it’s a district endowment that rivals public universities, options to donate through local tax or utility check-offs or a voluntary contribution on real estate transactions we must overcome the lack of leadership at the state.
Remaining cuts must be made far from classrooms. Cost savings from selling the McEachen Center, and moving administration to the vastly underused Indian Creek Technology Center, along with the underused Broadmoor Technical Center, could be substantial. We need to consider cuts to the district administrative staff and having principals and vice-principals take on some of these responsibilities. We should assess possible cost-savings from privatizing custodial, construction management, food service and technology support.
Tomorrow the candidates will give their impressions on the best hope for fixing the school funding formula:
There seems to be broad consensus in Johnson County that the state’s school funding formula is broken and desperately in need of repair. What’s the best hope for seeing meaningful change in the funding formula, in your opinion?