State’s third largest district transformed after controversy
MISSION, Kan. (AP) — The board for the state’s third largest school district has been transformed in an election that followed the departure of its leader who was one of the only superintendents in the state to back Gov. Sam Brownback’s push to repeal the state’s school funding formula.
Shawnee Mission voters overwhelmingly voted out the race’s only incumbent Tuesday and elected three first-time candidates. They’ve promised a new direction as the nearly 28,000-student district in suburban Kansas City seeks a replacement for former leader Jim Hinson, The Kansas City Star reports.
Hinson, who was just 54, announced in April that he was retiring to spend more time with his family after becoming a lightning rod. Although he was praised for overseeing the passage of a $223 million bond issue, overhauling security and expanding early childhood education, critics pushed back in part over his support of Brownback’s 2015 plan to replace the school finance formula with block grants. The policy was ruled unconstitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court in March. The district also prohibited staff from wearing safety pins to show support for the disenfranchised after last year’s election.
The Shawnee Mission district is a key player in any debate over school funding because of Johnson County’s political clout. The county’s voters have long voiced strong support for public schools and shown their willingness to raise local taxes to help support them. They put pressure on their legislators to back proposals allowing for greater local flexibility, even if those proposals are deemed unfair to poor districts elsewhere.
One of the newcomers is pastor and former Olathe Schools teacher Laura Guy, who took 60 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent Craig Denny.
“I think (voters) are ready for new leadership and some new ideas and new decisions,” Guy said.
Civil rights attorney and education advocate Heather Ousley defeated attorney Mandi Hunter with a 66 percent of the vote for an at-large seat. In August, Ousley and Hunter pushed longtime school board member Cindy Neighbor, who was first elected to the board in 1997, out of the running.
Also winning a seat was Mary Sinclair, of the Shawnee Mission Area Council PTA and Kansas PTA, who overpowered retired environmental science teacher James Lockard with 77 percent of the vote.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com