To Lee’s Summit R-7 School District Patrons,
Over the past few weeks you may have seen news articles and social media posts about concerns one Board of Education member raised about operations in the Lee’s Summit School District. As the current President of the Board of Education, I wanted to take a moment to assure you that the Board of Education has always taken our governance role as elected officials very seriously and we are addressing all issues and concerns raised following the law and established procedures.
Governing a school district is complex. Managing it is even more complex. Making it the best it can be requires trust at a variety of levels. Students need to trust their teachers. Parents need to trust teachers and administrators to keep their kids safe and provide them with the best education possible. Teachers need to trust administrators to provide guidance and resources so they can focus on their students. Administrators need to trust the Board of Education to provide thoughtful and professional governance. The public also needs to trust the Board of Education to provide oversight and ensure the professionals working for our district are supported and held accountable. That trust has always been strong in our district.
Differences of opinions do happen. Between students and teachers, teachers and administrators, administrators and Board of Education members and even among board members themselves. Dealing with those differences of opinions professionally fosters the trust that is critical to good governance and management, allowing the school district to maintain a level of excellence that supports our students, staff and ultimately the community.
I wanted to address a few questions that have been voiced recently to try to provide reassurance to the public so they can continue to trust the elected Board of Education as a whole. Together, we are all working hard to make sure our district continues to be well managed and well governed.
Question: Have any laws been broken or policies been violated?
Answer: No. Board of Education and school district administration are held to strict and detailed laws governing how business is conducted, what should be discussed in a closed confidential meeting and what has to be discussed in an open public meeting. Those laws are clear and we abide by them. We have closed meetings where legally required and hold open board meetings and board work sessions. Materials for our open sessions are shared on our website for anyone to view. We always have and will continue to follow the law about what can and cannot be discussed in public.
Question: Is there a closed culture in the school district?
Answer: No. The school district is a large organization – in fact it is the largest employer in the Lee’s Summit community. Lots of decisions have to be made every day. The Board of Education’s policies, which are discussed and voted on in public, give staff the guidelines on how to handle daily decisions that have to be made to run the schools and educate students. That is why the School District employs highly qualified administrators and managers to help run this very large and complex organization. As Board Members we are involved in different committees and efforts that allow us to learn more details about specific areas of operations, but we also receive recommendations from administrative staff based on their expertise. If every one of our seven board members was involved in decision making across all schools and departments, the district would not be able to function. Does that mean there is a closed culture where opinions and questions are not welcomed – absolutely not.
Question: Did the Board of Education take action when they learned of the potential for conflict of interests between the Superintendent and a lawyer at one of the firms that provides legal advice and representation.
Answer: Yes and immediately. Dr. McGehee appropriately notified every board member late last summer and the administration immediately implemented procedures to guard against any conflict of interest. The board discussed and monitored the situation regularly. The procedures were followed, and no concerns over conflict of interest arose. The board decided to take an additional step to ensure that best practices were being followed and hired an independent legal ethics expert to review the procedures. That expert found the procedures to be lawful and appropriate to prevent conflict of interests. I assure you the individuals involved and the entire board takes their responsibility in this area very seriously. The Board of Education is taking appropriate steps to make sure that district staff has access to the best legal representation while preventing any conflict of interest with any law firm or vendor with which we do business. We will continue that focus and commitment to our patrons.
Question: Is the same law firm working on Dr. McGehee’s contract?
Answer: No. At no time after Dr. McGehee and Ms. Guin began their personal relationship has the firm or any of its attorneys worked on Dr. McGehee’s contract.
Question: Have board members been chastised or scorned for voicing their opinions?
Answer: In the nearly 10 years I have been involved with the district both as a board member and as a volunteer, I have never witnessed a Board of Education member being chastised, scorned or dismissed for asking questions or voicing their opinions. Questions have been answered and alternative points of view offered in response to board members’ questions and opinions. Conversations have been redirected so meetings did not violate sunshine laws. But I have never sensed a willful or malicious attempt to lash out at a board member. Sometimes hearing alternative perspectives and learning facts that are different can be difficult, but those situations have always been handled as tactfully and professionally as possible.
Question: How is Dr. McGehee’ salary determined?
Answer: The Board of Education has thoughtfully and deliberately established Dr. McGehee’s salary and compensation package over the years to reward him for excellent performance and solid leadership. Each year seven elected board members evaluate his performance, provide feedback and evaluate whether or not the current contract and compensation package is reflective of the value being provided to the district. It is not one person’s decision, but a vote and discussion that includes the entire Board of Education. Dr. McGehee is compensated for his leadership and experience and his salary package is comparable to other executives that lead large companies throughout the region. In fact, Dr. McGehee’s base salary before any benefits are paid is almost identical to the salary just offered to the new superintendent in the Kansas City Missouri School District. Individuals may have different opinions on whether or not they personally agree with the decisions of the board, but I would like to assure the public that the Board considers all aspects of the superintendent salary decision very seriously. One of the focuses since I have been involved in the district is to maintain stability in the leadership of our district so the superintendent’s office doesn’t have a revolving door as other districts sometimes experience. Constantly changing leadership has an indirect cost to an organization that far surpasses the direct cost of finding and keeping a qualified leader.
It is unfortunate that the drama of the last few weeks has occurred. We are working together to continue to oversee the school district and address both the public’s and individual Board member’s concerns in the most appropriate way possible. Will we all agree on every decision? Probably not. Will those decisions be made deliberately and legally? I can answer that question with an emphatic yes. Can the community trust the Board of Education to ensure the legacy of excellence in public education in our community continues? I hope so, we will do our best to earn and maintain that trust.