Parents sound off about Shawnee Mission boundary changes

04/29/2014 5:28 PM

04/29/2014 5:28 PM

Although the Shawnee Mission School District wants to relieve crowding at five elementary schools, it was potential changes to the Briarwood Elementary School attendance boundaries that led nearly 20 parents to crowd around Superintendent Jim Hinson after Monday night’s board meeting, peppering him with questions and critical comments.

Discussions about changing the boundaries for Briarwood, at 5300 W. 86th St. in Prairie Village, have concerned parents who say they chose their neighborhood so their children could attend Briarwood.

The other elementary schools operating over capacity are Brookridge, Rising Star, Sunflower and Nieman. Hinson said he hoped to recommend a plan to alleviate the crowding in a week or two, in time to be voted on at the May 28 school board meeting.

Most of the Briarwood parents at the meeting Monday said they live in the Prairie Ridge neighborhood, between 75th and 79th streets, and Mission Road to Nall Avenue. They are afraid they will be cut out of the Briarwood attendance area and forced to send their children to another school, most likely Tomahawk Elementary just to the west.

“We bought our home here because of Briarwood and Mission Valley (Middle School) and Shawnee Mission East (High School),” said Lisa Delaney. “Now Mission Valley is closed. And to be taken out of Briarwood is heartbreaking.”

Mission Valley was closed after the 2010-11 school year and the property sold to a development group. The school district has lost more than 4,000 students since 1998, including 544 in the past five years. But some areas like Briarwood are “regreening,” with young families moving in, leading to a crowded situation.

Several parents who fear they will be affected by a Briarwood boundary change say they’ve been kept in the dark about it, both by district leaders and by the site council at the school, which is made up of fellow parents and administrators. They complained of not knowing what school their children would attend in the fall, even as the current school year comes to a close.

Hinson said that he has met with the various site councils about boundary changes and that the councils should have been communicating with their constituents.

Delaney said that has not occurred at Briarwood.

“There has been a complete breakdown in communication somewhere,” she said, vowing to follow up with site council members after the board meeting.

Hinson said he had to meet with one more site council to get its input before he made a recommendation about changes to alleviate crowding.

Several Briarwood parents wanted to know what Hinson was thinking, and they waited for the hour-plus board meeting to conclude so they could question him.

They asked whether students who had transferred to Briarwood from other district schools could be sent back to their home schools to make more room at Briarwood and obviate the need for boundary changes. Others pointed to the English Language Learners program, which houses about 100 children at Briarwood, most from outside the area, and asked whether it could be moved elsewhere to make more room for neighborhood children. Still others asked whether, if they already had children attending Briarwood, they could be “grandfathered” in and avoid any boundary change.

“Everything is on the table,” Hinson responded.

He cautioned though, “If we alleviate crowding in one place, we may create it in another.

“I don’t want to put a Band-Aid on the situation and make changes every single year,” he said. “We have a growing population, and that’s a good problem to have.”

At the outset of the meeting, Hinson warned that “some families will be impacted” by the changes he recommends.

“We will try to reduce that as much as possible,” he said.

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