February 27, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

JoCo school boards request political ‘cover’ from commissioners

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“Legal department had not made final review,” wrote Johnson County Commission Chair Ed Eilert , explaining why the school district opt-out provision of the county mask mandate in the initial draft was removed.  That didn’t pass the smell test, so the Sentinel obtained emails between the districts and county officials.

And now we know the truth.  Five of the six school districts asked that the opt-out provision be removed to give political cover to their board members.  There is no mention of a ‘legal review’ in the back-and-forth with county officials.  Just school boards and superintendents asking county commissioners to save them from having to do their jobs and make a decision.

Shawnee Mission Superintendent Michelle Hubbard: “I personally don’t like the ‘opt-out’ as it places the blame back on the local boards rather than partnering to protect the community.”

Olathe Superintendent Brent Yeager: “…the possibility to opt out continues to put this public health decision on our Board of Education.”

Blue Valley Superintendent Tonya Merrigan: “I concur with Frank and Brent.”  (De Soto Superintendent Frank Harwood didn’t mention the opt-out.)

Gardner-Edgerton Superintendent Pam Stranathan: “Please note that I agree with all pertaining to concerns about the opt-out.  I will restate what Brent stated that it would continue to put this public health decision on our Board of Education.”

De Soto Board Member Rick Amos: “It’s time for officials that are in paid positions to take a stand; we have be (sic) dealt an unfair hand at the local BOE level.”

Spring Hill Superintendent Wayne Burke was the only one who didn’t ask the county for political cover.  He said, “…it is my belief that our Board will probably vote on August 9th to opt out.”

For the record, Johnson County Legal Department chief counsel Peg Trent unequivocally told Commissioners that school boards have home rule authority to opt-out of the county’s mandate and adopt less restrictive policies.  Superintendents know that to be true, but they wanted the county to give the illusion that board members had no choice out of self-interest.  If voters give board members the boot and elect people who expose the truth about student achievement, superintendents could be forced to acknowledge reality and implement student-focused reforms.

They don’t want board members who hold them accountable.  They want cheerleaders who don’t take hard looks at student achievement, which is made clear in their pleas to commissioners.

Zero concern about educational and emotional consequences

Aside from saying mask mandates are better than remote learning, no one uttered a word of concern for students’ educational and emotional needs.  And that has been consistent over the last year.  Parents have asked board members and administrators to explain the analytical process behind their decisions, as in, ‘how did you determine that the perceived health benefits of your decisions substantially outweighed the known educational and emotional consequences?’”  Every time, those questions were met with deflective word salads or ‘deer in the headlight’ looks because their decisions were not driven by objective analysis.

De Soto board member Rick Amos wrote, “…it’s our job to provide the best possible education for our kids.  Amos may believe that that is what every district is doing, but an objective analysis shows otherwise – only 38% of De Soto high school students are on track for college and career in math.

On whole, 30% of high school students in Johnson County are below grade level in math, and less than half are on track according to the Kansas Department of Education.  One in five Blue Valley high school students are below grade level; 30% are at grade level but still need remedial training, and just 49% are on track.  That is as ‘good’ as it gets.  Shawnee Mission, Gardner-Edgerton, and Spring Hill have more high school students below grade level than are on track for college and career.

School board members and administrators have these inconvenient facts, but it is verboten to speak of them in public.  Acknowledging the truth would require corrective action, which would upset the adults in the system and tarnish their well-burnished reputations.  They will not allow that to happen, and that is why it is up to legislators to take bold steps.

Former Wichita board member Joy Eakin told legislators as much earlier this year when she testified in support of a money-follow-the-child education savings account bill.  She once was opposed to parental choice legislation, thinking the system could change from within.  But no longer.

“I’m here today asking you to pass this bill because I got a good look at the inside of the system.”

Administrators and school board members being unwilling to take responsibility for fulfilling their primary objective – academically preparing students to be successful in life – is not new.  That’s why parents must insist that legislators heed Joy Eakin’s advice and give kids a fighting chance.

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