There is no extremist running for the districtwide at-large position for the Shawnee Mission school board. Whew. The district race has not attracted a far-right candidate.
Both candidates, Cindy Neighbor and Mark Read, are moderate in their views, although there is a clear difference between the two candidates, one of whom will represent the district’s 145,000 patrons.
Read had been pushing hard for the school board to select its new superintendent from the outside. The board did just that, by picking 50-year-old Jim Hinson, currently superintendent of the Independence School District — apparently an excellent pick, from all we have heard.
Read has made a campaign issue out of the fact that out of the seven current board members, only one — Sara Goodburn — has a child in the district. Read, who has an 8-year-old at Trailwood Elementary School, said he believes we need more parents of children in the district on the board, and I think that is a valid point, though not necessarily the determining factor in the race.
However, board president Patty Mach has a junior at Shawnee Mission Northwest High and her two sons attended district schools.
What is the key factor in the race is whether or not patrons want a “change agent” in Read, or whether they are satisfied with the board as it has been functioning.
Neighbor, a 16-year veteran on the school board and a former state legislator, is not one to rock the boat. Neither are the other board members, who often vote unanimously on issues.
The board members get along with each other and with the administration officials.
Read thinks things are too cozy.
While not a man looking for trouble, Read would be intent on asking challenging questions and might very well introduce new ways of thinking about the issues.
Read, whose background is in computer software, has an agenda that may or may not be realistic, depending on future funding of the schools.
He is philosophically opposed to closing any more schools in the district. At a recent forum, Neighbor refused to be hemmed in. She said the district must be efficient.
Read wants to reverse the trend of “mega” elementary schools and large class sizes.
Indeed, classroom sizes have increased dramatically, as hundreds of teachers have been cut, due to the budget crunch.
Read is campaigning on reintroducing foreign language studies into elementary schools. That is a very expensive proposition, and Read has not said how he would come up with the millions of dollars it would cost.
Read has made a major campaign commitment to ensuring all “Title I” schools — those whose classrooms are filled with disadvantaged children — are successful. As Read has said — and this is undeniably true — Shawnee Mission has almost two separate districts today. One is composed of affluent or middle-class students and the other whose families struggle to make ends meet. Neighbor defends the amount of resources channeled to the Title I schools.
Neighbor has argued that the district is doing the best it can with the resources it has. The cash reserves are near an all-time low, and the district is operating on a hand-to-mouth budget.
Voters will really be selecting an attitude when the expected 8 percent of registered voters go to the polls on April 2 or vote by advanced ballot.
They can elect an established status-quo candidate, or they can elect a candidate who promises to raise lots of questions, some of which need to be asked.
The choices are clear.
| Special to The Star