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Candidates Neighbor, Read put forth contrasting views of school board role at forum
“Cordial but conflicted” might best describe the demeanor of the Shawnee Mission School Board candidates at a community forum Saturday.
Before a crowd of more than 50 at the event sponsored by the Prairie Village Post, the SM East PTA and the Indian Hills PTA, incumbent Cindy Neighbor and challenger Mark Read presented starkly contrasting views of the board’s role in promoting district-wide excellence and dealing with the significant financial challenges the district faces.
Neighbor and Read are running for an at-large seat on the board in the only contested election of the season.
Over the course of the discussion, Read pledged to be an active and public voice in examining the district’s strategic plans and characterized the board’s current mode of operation as frequently opaque.
Read said he was drawn to run for the seat after an infrastructure problem prompted the district to call for the closure of John Diemer Elementary, which would have affected his neighborhood school. Read was baffled by the fact that the ripple effects — increased populations at other schools, the logistics of scheduling meals at those schools, etc… — had not been considered. After a community meeting about the proposal drew 700 people, the plan was scrapped.
“There had been no thought or consideration as to how this was going to play out,” Read said.
Incumbent Cindy Neighbor, who has held the seat for 16 years, said earlier in the discussion that the board works closely together as a team, and board members ask questions of the superintendent during private one-hour meetings each month. They do a “lot of homework behind the scenes,” she said.
“We are not like a Kansas City, Missouri or some other school districts that are divided and do not accomplish anything,” Neighbor said.
Neighbor said that investment proposals listed on Read’s website would be financially unfeasible and that they belied a “lack of understanding of the district’s finances.”
But Read countered that the district was in need of a fresh voice who would be willing to ruffle a few feathers if necessary to confront mounting challenges.
“I haven’t heard what the vision is,” Read said of Neighbor’s comments in his closing remarks. “I am hearing status quo. I am hearing good enough. To me, with a child in school, that is not acceptable.”
(The Shawnee Mission Area Council is planning to post a full video of the forum later this week. We’ll put it up on the site once it’s live.)
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