DR. JOHNSON DISCUSSES ISSUES WITHIN SHAWNEE MISSION SCHOOLS. By Wayne Hodges
SHAWNEE MISSION, Kan – There’s no question our nation’s economic downturn has levied a negative effect against both the state and federal government. The byproduct equates to less revenue for public schools; resulting in employee layoffs, strained resources and, in some instances, contraction/school closings. There are no quick fixes. And remedies are hard to find.
Financial projections call for more budget cuts in the near future; placing educators into the precarious situation of having to do much more with far less. Scary indeed. Recently, Mass Appeal editor Wayne Hodges caught up with Dr. Gene Johnson, Superintendent of the Shawnee Mission School District, to discuss the financial state of Kansas academics. Their Q&A went as follows:
Hodges: Dr. Johnson, thanks for taking time to speak with me today. These are certainly difficult economic times in the USA. Revenues are down. And public schools have been indirectly affected. Can you talk about some of the struggles hampering the Shawnee Mission School District?
Johnson: Right now, the financial state of Kansas is very poor. This is significant because the state pays 60% of our educational funding. Local authority provides the other 40%. The issue is that the state can no longer afford to pay that 60%. This explains why Kansas is in this tough situation where money is being significantly reduced.
Hodges: When you talk reductions, the concern then becomes “what happens to the teachers?” Recent news reports indicate the Shawnee Mission School District sliced $10 million from its budget for the 2009-2010 school year. And some teachers were subsequently let go. Can you elaborate further on these cuts? Are more expected?
Johnson: It’s certainly not easy to cut $10 million. We lost roughly 120 employees as a result. So it was very tough. However, the state is $400 million in the hole. We had to cut another $10 million for the 2010-2011 school year. And more cuts are expected next school year. We understand the state has exhausted its funds. We’re trying to combat that problem by pushing for additional local authority to flip the 60/40 ratio. Democrats, and I’m sure you already know this, realize this is a burden on the state and something has to change.
Hodges: So much was made of the Kansas City School District closing an unprecedented 50% of its schools. Obviously, most of us were hoping this wouldn’t happen. However, school administrators deemed contraction absolutely necessary to reduce operating expenses. Are you in agreement with the closings? Could something similar happen in the state of Kansas?
Johnson: I agree, school closings are very unpopular. Nobody likes it. And most of us would prefer they just stay open. That said, if a school is operating at 50% capacity, you have little choice but to look at mergers and/or closings to cut operating expenses. In Shawnee Mission, we’re constantly looking at our buildings and new ways to become more efficient. We spend $15 million annually on utilities. If we can somehow save $1 million by being more efficient, we can protect up to 18 jobs. Last year, we hired an energy analyst and spent 11% less on electricity. So we’re always looking at ways to curtail spending and protect jobs.
Hodges: Dr. Johnson, it was a pleasure speaking with you. I certainly appreciate the time. Let’s do it again real soon.
Johnson: You’re welcome. Thank you.
Dr. Gene Johnson, Ed. D., is the Superintendent of the Shawnee Mission School District. To learn more about Shawnee Mission schools, please visit http://smsd.org. Dr. Johnson welcomes your questions and comments at [email protected].