Parents weighed in Wednesday on the Shawnee Mission School District’s plans for new attendance boundaries for 11 elementary schools, with several questioning how the changes will affect where their children attend middle school.
About 20 parents and other community members attended the second of two public information sessions on the boundary changes, which would go into effect during the 2018-2019 school year.
Deputy Superintendent Kenny Southwick said a final version of the proposed changes will go to the school board for a vote on May 22.
The changes would involve creating an attendance zone for the Lenexa Hill Elementary School under construction at 87th Street Parkway and Haven Street and changing boundary lines for the elementary schools of Broken Arrow, Sunflower, Christa McAuliffe, Rising Star, Rosehill, Shawanoe, Mill Creek, Rhein Benninghoven, East Antioch and Overland Park.
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School officials have said the changes are necessary to ease crowding in some schools and better use space in schools with lower attendance.
For several parents attending the meeting at Shawnee Mission West High School, the bigger concern was the issue of “split feeders,” or elementary schools that advance students to more than one middle school.
Although children who attend the same elementary school may eventually reunite in high school, the disruption of friendships and neighborhood connections can be difficult, parents said.
John Thomas of Shawnee said children in his area currently attend Benninghoven, which is a feeder school for Shawnee Mission Northwest High School. He said the proposed border changes would send those children to Christa McAuliffe, which is a feeder for Shawnee Mission West High School and sends students to two middle schools.
“Change is always hard, but I think that’s the biggest complaint for our family and the folks in our neighborhood,” Thomas said.
Thomas added that he was disappointed that the district didn’t hold more public hearings on the proposed changes so residents could have their comments entered on the public record. During the public input sessions, residents could write their comments on yellow index cards and leave them for staff.
“I can say whatever I want to say, but they don’t have to write it down,” he said.
Angela Gantzer of Shawnee also has a son set to attend Benninghoven in the fall. She said her family moved to their neighborhood primarily to attend Benninghoven and was surprised that the changes will instead send her son to Christa McAuliffe. She said her son has special needs, so losing friends when they and he are sent to different middle schools in seventh grade will be especially hard.
Gantzer also said Christa McAuliffe is quite a distance from her neighborhood, which she said is closer to both Benninghoven and Mill Creek.
“It doesn't make any sense that we will have to go the third-farthest school from our home,” she said.
Chris Gralapp of Lenexa said he was actually happy that the proposed changes would add students to Mill Creek, where his children attend school. He said Mill Creek has suffered from significant swings in the student population of certain grades from year to year, making it difficult to retain teachers and other staff. Adding students, he said, would ultimately make the class sizes more stable.
But Gralapp said he was concerned that neighboring Rising Star Elementary feeds its students to both Trailridge and Westridge middle schools while Mill Creek feeds only Westridge. He said the district should move many of the Rising Star students bound for Westridge into Mill Creek to reduce the future disruptions.
“I think the district is missing an opportunity here,” he said. “Why not try to bring more of those kids who are split to Mill Creek? Their parents are already trying to transfer them to Mill Creek so when seventh grade comes they are not losing their friends.”
Sarah Baker of Lenexa said she attended the meeting not so much to comment on the current proposed changes but to ensure that school officials consider how growth in the district could affect children like hers.
Baker said she has a special needs daughter who currently attends Overland Park Elementary and a special needs son who will begin attending the school this fall. She said that current enrollment at Overland Park is adequate, but she noted several apartment complexes under construction in Overland Park will likely generate additional students in the near future and could overcrowd the school.
In such a situation, she worries the district would be forced to move the special education program to make room, a possibility that she said has been discussed by school officials during meetings to develop education plans for her children.
“While it’s not being considered a piece of the boundary changes, that’s because those buildings in downtown Overland Park aren’t built yet,” Baker said. “If I don’t raise my voice now, when will I get the chance, after it’s a done deal? That scares me. I want to make sure everyone making these decisions are making very informed decisions.”
Southwick said staff members will take the public input they’ve received during the two meetings, as well as comments they’ve gathered from phone calls and emails, and use it to tweak the proposal and present a final recommendation to the school board.
Southwick said there was a possibility of postponing a decision, but he said he wanted to give parents and staff at least a year to prepare.
“Every move we make creates the opportunity to make someone happy and make someone else unhappy,” he said. “We will try to make a decision that makes sense.”
David Twiddy: firstname.lastname@example.org