The Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education announced the impending closure of Mission Valley Middle School on Nov. 8. According to the Board’s presentation, “Proposal 10” would relocate students who attend Mission Valley to Indian Hills—using the building’s 912 student capacity. Superintendent Gene Johnson explains that operating two schools when you only need one is a “huge inefficiency.”
While students are assured to be reassigned to schools next year in the district, staff members’ jobs are not as secure. Mission Valley currently has 55 teaching positions—all of which will be listed as “excess” in the SMSD. Some may go to Indian Hills, some may get other jobs in the district; decisions can’t be made until student enrollment is complete.
“The teachers who are at Mission Valley will have the opportunity to slot into those open spots that at are at Indian Hills because, obviously, you’re going to need more teachers,” Dr. Johnson said. “There is a possibility that maybe you’re not going to need as many [teachers], so those teachers would go on excess and be placed in other jobs within the school district.”
Dr. Johnson has said that staff members should learn where they’ll be working next year sometime after spring break. Although he says they “should have a pretty good idea of what the process is like,” he also notes that there is some uneasiness. Nancy Fritz is the SMSD Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) director and has noticed rising worry.
“They are concerned about where they’re going to work next year and that’s a legitimate concern,” Fritz said. “I’ve been on excess myself in the past. It’s very unnerving.”
She says that although teachers are concerned, they will definitely have a job in the 2011-12 school year as of right now. Doug Jones teaches social studies at Mission Valley and notes that teachers are particularly worried about what and where they’ll be teaching next year.
“I think in general more people are worried about going to a new school,” Jones said. “There’s definitely a sense of nervousness—not knowing where [you’re] going to be. Once you get assigned to a new school, all you do is get assigned to a school; you don’t have control over what you teach.”
On the whole, Jones thinks the District has “handled the situation well.” The teachers were given a form by human resources where they can request what they would like to teach next year and the SMSD has promised to try to uphold these. Although generally happy with the measures taken by the district, Jones is bitter towards the state.
He points out that the district’s funding has been cut substantially—something he accredits to teachers losing jobs. According to a SMSD position statement filed for the 2010-11 school year, the operating budget is $14.7 million less than it was last year. The 2010 Annual Comprehensive Finance report shows that $11,707 is spent on each student—the highest it has been in 10 years.
Sue Storm oversees District 1 for the State Board of Education and says that all districts have collectively been given less funding over the past few years.
“[Funding has been less] because of the revenue shortfall and the [legislature’s] unwillingness to—well, last year they did raise sale tax—but there were some other things they could have done that other legislators saw, but legislature wasn’t willing to do them,” Storm said.
Storm blames it on “the whole economic picture.” She explains that her home may have been worth $200,000 this year, but now it may be worth only $160,000 due to foreclosures and the value of property going down. She thinks this has contributed to a $500 million deficit.
With the state of the economy, Dr. Johnson explains that certain measures must be taken to save money. One of the things that will be done to benefit the district is the layoff of certain staff—excluding teachers—at Mission Valley.
“You’re going to save money on two principals, custodians…you only need one librarian, one nurse and you don’t need two office staff,” Dr. Johnson said. “So there’s a lot of employees that you don’t need to hire if you only have one building.”
The news that custodial and office workers will not be receiving jobs next year has not gone over particularly well at East. According to a poll of 110 students, 78 percent think that it is unfair that they won’t be employed in the district. Junior Morgan Satterlee’s family is “very involved” with the school and she wishes that workers could receive jobs next year.
“I don’t think it is fair that they lose their jobs due to the switch,” Satterlee said. “But if budgets must be cut, then there is nothing else to do about it.”
Freshman Andy McCoy also went to Mission Valley and thinks that the the laid off workers should receive jobs at Indian Hills.
“I think some of the custodians should get to keep their jobs and go to Indian Hills, mainly because there are a lot more kids,” McCoy said. “Maybe some of the office workers should be able to go over there [too]. It just depends on how difficult it will be with twice as many kids.”
If the layoff of particular staff members doesn’t help the district enough financially, then they will have to revert to the Reduction In Force (RIF) system. Dr. Johnson describes that this will eliminate teachers who have been in the district the least amount of time.
East students have taken a general stance against the RIF system. Of the 110 polled, 83 percent think this is a poor way to enforce layoffs. David Muhammad taught at East before being let go as a result of the RIF system and remembers telling himself that “it wasn’t because of his ability.”
“Being young, you go through these sort of things,” Muhammad said. “Money is tight everywhere, and sadly, education suffers as well. I tried to remain optimistic and tell myself that everything happens for a reason.”
Muhammad thinks that the RIF system, while a good system, isn’t perfect. He says that it is a “knock against young, passionate teachers.” But he also explains that “just because a teacher is young doesn’t mean that they’re better.” Fritz notes that the district would like to avoid this system, but she feels there is a high probability that they will have to go to it.
“We will be watching the state budget and what kind of money they send the school district,” Fritz said. “Governor Brownback’s proposal to the state legislature is that there will be a two and a half million dollar cut for this year.”
Throughout this entire process, stemming back to Nov. 8 when they announced Mission Valley would close, Dr. Johnson has tried to be conscious of people’s feelings. He knows that no one is going to want their school to close and he understands that.
He has encountered general disapproval thus far regarding Mission Valley’s closing. A group was created called “Save Mission Valley,” whose sole purpose was to countermand the decision to close. They wrote a petition and got 800 people to sign, citing six major points as to why it should stay open.
Through meetings and statements, Dr. Johnson has dealt with this disapproval. He still firmly believes that they made the right decision and that Indian Hills will ultimately benefit. In the future, he says he plans on adding “upgrades” to Indian Hills, and that five years down the road, it should be operating well.
As for the staff members: the future is less certain. Fritz has said that from board meetings she has seen that “nobody wants anybody to lose their job,” but trying to maintain a profitable district can be difficult at times.
“This is a cycle of economy and unfortunately it has nothing to do with fairness or not,” Fritz said. “It’s trying to run a economical, financially feasible school district.”