Joco spotlight

Despite projections of flat enrollment, Shawnee Mission may have to consider line changes

Updated: 2014-02-26T01:40:35Z

By RICK HELLMAN

Special to The Star

A new demographic survey predicts flat enrollment numbers for the Shawnee Mission School District for as far as the eye can see.

Even so, a handful of elementary schools are at or over capacity, and attendance boundaries may have to shift to account for areas of expected population growth within the district, according to a demographic report discussed at a board work session Monday night.

Superintendent Jim Hinson said five elementary schools are now at or over capacity: Rising Star, Sunflower and Neiman, which are west of Interstate 35. Brookridge in Overland Park is on the district’s southern border. Briarwood, in Prairie Village, is on the district’s east side.

These conditions are due, in part, to past school closings necessitated by falling district enrollment. Shawnee Mission has lost more than 4,000 students since 1998, including 544 in the past five years, as the population within the district ages. Its total enrollment stands at 27,418 this school year, second-largest in Johnson County, behind Olathe.

“Part of the quandary for us is that we don’t see the same number of kids per household as we did 20 years ago,” Hinson said.

Even the prospects for new housing developments on the district’s southern and western fringes don’t hold the promise of many new students, as many of the expected residents would be empty-nesters. Hinson said he has been consulting with city planners within the district and would continue to do so to best anticipate coming population changes.

The construction of a new Shawanoe Elementary school in Shawnee could affect attendance boundaries in the western part of the district, he said. Building is expected to start there this spring, and the school could open in the fall of 2016.

“The new Shawanoe will house a couple of hundred additional students,” Hinson said. That means that students now housed in trailers at nearby Neiman Elementary could wind up in the new Shawanoe classrooms.

Board vice president Sara Goodburn expressed concern that changing elementary boundaries could change “feeder patterns,” meaning which elementary schools feed into which high schools.

But board member Donna Bysfield said that should not be a consideration as much as what’s best for each student.

“We need to get away from feeder patterns,” Bysfield said. “It doesn’t matter what mascot you belong to. Our main problem is being sure each and every school has what it needs, as opposed to where they end up being” in high school.”

Hinson said changes in attendance boundaries were not a favorite subject for the board, but that decisions could be recommended and taken as soon as the April meeting.

“We could have a couple of tweaks this spring,” he said. “There is lot of work to figure it out between now and then.”

And while changing attendance boundaries is a hot-button topic, the report made an even more explosive assumption that schools will need to be closed.

“The challenge for the district from here on will be to determine which building to close,” said the report, prepared by Preston Smith of the locally based Business Information Services.

Shawnee Mission board President Deb Zila said closings are not under consideration.

“Closure is just not on the table right now,” Zila said. “That’s a formulaic idea of how the buildings should be; with lower enrollment we should move that elsewhere. … We faced that three years ago, and it was not a happy adventure.”

Two middle schools and an elementary school were closed three years ago. But since then, the district has seen changes, including a new superintendent and a $20 million 1-to-1 computer distribution program to begin next school year.

“I think there is new blood in Shawnee Mission, and with our technology initiative and other things, I believe people who may have looked elsewhere will now look to Shawnee Mission,” Zila said.

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