Shawnee Mission school board shifts Brookridge borders, puts off Briarwood decision

05/29/2014 2:46 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

The Shawnee Mission Board of Education voted Wednesday to shift some students from Brookridge to John Diemer Elementary, but took no action on the superintendent’s plan to relieve overcrowding at Briarwood Elementary by sending transfer students back to their home schools.

Superintendent Jim Hinson still has the power to order transfer students at Briarwood, 5300 W. 86th St., to return to their home schools on his own authority.

But that move, and a related plan to shift the district’s English Language Learners program elsewhere for the 2015-16 school year, drew a large crowd of concerned parents both for and against the plan.

Two parents spoke against the Briarwood plan. Kirsten Byrd noted that enrollment at Briarwood, where her three children attend, had increased from 508 in 2009-2010 to 595 this school year. This, she said, led to class sizes approaching the maximum under district guidelines of 30 students. She said that a demographer’s report, prepared for the district, predicted further enrollment increases at the school and that Hinson’s proposal would remove only 26 students.

“This board’s mission is to provide a comprehensive education and a secure environment that fosters respect … and I don’t think this recommendation falls within any of those guideposts,” Byrd said.

If the district is unwilling to change the school’s enrollment boundaries to bring down numbers, Byrd said, “I’m calling for more teachers and more classrooms, trailers … We can’t go another year.”

Attorney Chris Muehlberger attacked the plan from another angle, saying he had been assured, as the parent of two transfer students, that they would be allowed to attend Briarwood throughout their school careers.

He said Hinson’s plan “fails to solve the crowding and is wrong from a legal and equitable point of view.”

Board member Cindy Neighbor said after the meeting ended that Shawnee Mission’s transfer policy had changed since the letter Muehlberger cited, and that the district no longer guaranteed the permanency of transfers.

The school board did unanimously approve Hinson’s proposal to change the boundaries between the adjoining Brookridge and John Diemer elementary school areas, taking some students away from crowded Brookridge, 9920 Lowell Ave., and adding them to the much smaller Diemer, 9600 Lamar Ave., next year.

“Diemer has been discussed for several years for closure, and this certainly eliminates that from discussion,” Hinson said during the meeting.

After the meeting, the discussion of the Briarwood matter continued among patrons.

Heather Wong said she was still concerned about crowded classrooms, student security ad the lack of a fence around the school’s playground, among other things.

But Lisa Delaney and Michelle Hogerty had shown up at the meeting because they had heard a rumor that the board might reconsider Hinson’s plan and enact a boundary change that would move their children from Briarwood to Tomahawk Elementary, 6301 W. 78th St.

Hogerty said that would have made her home’s property value drop.

Delaney said her daughter had done well academically at Briarwood, despite large class sizes.

“It wasn’t a fight to keep my kid out of Tomahawk … it’s about doing what’s best for my son,” Delaney said. “We’re all fighting for Briarwood.”

Budget matters

The board also approved an increase in the local option budget for the coming school year, a move made legally possible by an act of the Kansas Legislature in its 2014 session. The board’s action will be effective for just one year unless citizens vote to keep it longer.

The board’s action increases property taxes from an amount equal to 31 percent of state aid up to 33 percent and will generate an additional $4.2 million next year. The impact of the increase for the owner of a home with an assessed valuation of $200,000 is $30 a year. The total budget for the district next year, approved Wednesday, will be just over $218 million.

The budget envisions a drop next year of the equivalent of 92 full-time positions, as compared to the school year that just ended. Even so, salary expenses will increase from just over $155 million to just under $158 million.

The board also voted to accept a grant of $25,000 from First National Bank to help fund the return of athletics programs to middle schools next year.

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