I see Dr. David Buck at Chamber events, district events and even on mutual boards we give our time to. What I don’t get to do often is just sit and ask some questions that are on my mind as an LSR7 parent, taxpayer and stakeholder.

John Beaudoin

COMMENTARY | John Beaudoin

As our neighboring district to the north — Independence Public Schools, the school district that educated myself and my siblings — announced its shift to a four-day school week for the 2023-24 school year, the chatter began to swirl around Lee’s Summit. People began to wonder if LSR7 would: A) entertain cutting 20 percent of the school week and, B) could we lose teachers to Independence with the promise of a shorter work week.

Independence Superintendent Dr. Dale Herl has been pretty vocal on not only his intent to make the change but also claiming this change would drastically alter his district’s prospects as far as job applicants for teaching and other staff positions. The effort to make the move easily passed through his board (one in which he has significant influence) with a 6-1 vote.

Just a few weeks ago, Herl went to Twitter to announce his district had received 506 applications for certified and classified staff from October 2022 through Jan. 9, 2023, a 456 percent increase from the 91 applications received during the same time period a year prior. He credits the massive increase “largely” to the move to a four-day week.

According to numbers going back to 2018, it’s unlikely Independence would see a large windfall of Lee’s Summit teachers. LSR7’s turnover rate hovered between 7-8% during that time, the lowest amount among the “Big 6” metro districts (Lee's Summit, Independence, Blue Springs, North Kansas City, Liberty and Park Hill.) Blue Springs and Liberty have similar numbers to LSR7, and Independence has, by far, been the highest of the group, with turnover rates ranging from 11-17%.

In 2022, about 13.5 percent of teachers who left Lee’s Summit went to another district to teach or take other positions, down from 20 percent in 2021.

With its decision, Independence becomes one of more than 140 of Missouri's 550 school districts to move to a 4-day week. More than 100 of them have done so since 2018.

Buck says, unequivocally, Lee’s Summit will not be joining them.

“We are not looking at it. We haven’t had any discussions on it,” Buck said from his office. “In my humble opinion, it can be a hardship for some families. Childcare, free and reduced lunch… there are several pieces in there that concern me.

“The pandemic showed us that in-person is the best possible education you can have.”

While the overwhelming majority of those four-day-a-week districts are in rural and remote areas of Missouri, the Independence move could be seen as a shot across the bow for larger school districts.

If a school district has a financial need to do so, then looking at trimming costs via a four-day-week is something that the local school board is almost compelled to do. But districts switching in the name of teacher recruitment and retention do so at the peril of a world that largely still works five days a week and where families rely on a structured schedule while parents work.

Buck also said in districts that have increasingly higher free-and-reduced lunch needs, taking a day away — two meals, essentially — isn’t a choice he wants to make. Lee’s Summit, for example, has 3,500 students who qualify for the lunch program. Twenty years ago, that number was just 1,000 (LSR7 population growth from 2002 to today is around 2,900 students).

“We’re kids first and to me, we want to serve the kids,” Buck said. “If I didn’t have enough teachers or enough budget, I would look at that. But we have those. It’s best for kids to be in school.”

While Buck says his school board hasn’t broached the conversation yet, it could be one for a future work session or in open discussion. And that’s not a bad thing at all. Conversations about school weeks, curriculum and teacher retention opportunities should be far higher on the priority list than, say, banning books.

A few other items of note from my conversation with Dr. Buck:

  • It’s been long thought (by me, I will be the first to admit) that LSR7 was top-heavy in both percentage of budget to staff salary and in administrators over at the Taj Mahal. Turns out, I was right about one of those things.

    Buck tells me, without apology, that 84.2 percent of the LSR7 budget goes to salary and benefits of the 2,973 employees, the highest of the previously mentioned “big 6” school districts.

    “We’re in the people business. We need people to help people. We value our people. So it sits just fine with me,” he said. “You’re trying to get money to the classrooms to help kids out. The pandemic was a great lesson. Teachers, paras, they all matter.”

  • As of 2016 (so numbers may have changed), Lee’s Summit spends 5.16 percent of its budget on positions classified as “executive,” which is actually in the bottom 6 percent in Missouri. Blue Springs is close behind at 5.51; Kansas City, in contrast, sits at over 17 percent.

  • According to the Missouri NEA 2022-23 salary schedule, LSR7 is seventh in the metro for starting salary ($40,326) behind Kansas City ($43,100), North Kansas City, Belton, Grandview and Independence ($40,800). On the middle (Master’s) Step 10, Lee’s Summit falls to 12th in salary ($52,416), lower than NKC, Independence ($55,816), Raytown and Blue Springs, but rebounds to No. 1 on the Master’s-plus (maximum) salary scale at $98,551.

  • On a political note, please get to know your board of education candidates. We only have one incumbent running (Kathy Campbell) and the other six are new to politics and politicking. Attend the forums. Ask questions. Be part of the solution to limit extreme candidates (on either side) from gaining political steam on our school board.

Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, its employees or any other guest contributors.

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