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Shawnee Mission Superintendent Says Tax Increase May Be Necessary To Hire More Teachers

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3
Back in January, Shawnee Mission East students walked out of school in solidarity with teachers who were asking for workload reductions during a protracted contract dispute.

Ahead of contract talks with the union, the Shawnee Mission School District has unveiled a plan to address workload concerns by hiring more middle and high school teachers.

The Shawnee Mission School District is developing a plan to hire nearly 80 new middle and high school teachers to address the workload concerns that stalled contract negotiations last year.

On Monday night, Superintendent Mike Fulton told the school board the best way to free up money for teachers would be to put a bond issue on the ballot within the next year. Fulton said hiring more teachers without extending or increasing taxes would put the district in a perilous financial position.

“What we don’t want to do is to create a pathway for reducing workload that then because of financial pressures down the road, we have to pull back on and change course again,” Fulton said. “If we’re going to do this, let’s do it once, and do it right.”

But to get a bond issue on the November ballot, the board would need to act by July 26. The district wants to conduct a scientific phone survey that takes into account the feelings of voters, not just families with school-aged children.

Then the board could decide whether to pursue a bond issue that increases taxes or just extends them.

Shawnee Mission’s tax rate would still be lower than all of its neighbors, including Blue Valley and Olathe, districts where middle and high school educators teach fewer class periods per day. During last year’s contract talks, NEA-Shawnee Mission often compared their workload to their peers in other Johnson County schools. Shawnee Mission educators have said that teaching six periods per day is unsustainable, and they’re expected to bring up the issue again when contract negotiations for the upcoming school year begin Tuesday morning.

Teachers have proposed freeing up money by pay for custodians out of the building maintenance fund, which Kansas law allows. That’s part of the strategy Fulton outlined, but the district would still need to budget for school renovations.

“Is that more important, or is it more important to address workload for secondary teachers?” Fulton said.

Hence the bond issue.

Board members will have to decide what to prioritize as they build next year’s budget. Like all Kansas school districts, Shawnee Mission is facing a great deal of financial uncertainty right now. Schools are supposed to be receiving more money from the state, but revenue collections are down because of the pandemic.

That means instead of planning how to spend their surplus, many school administrators are trying to figure out what they might be able to cut mid-year if necessary.

“Change and uncertainty are two factors that really generate a lot of questions,” board member Mary Sinclair said at Monday’s meeting. “I would characterize Shawnee Mission as really living with this idea of change or uncertainty for a while now.”

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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