A $1.44 million cut to the Shawnee Mission School District budget ordered by Gov. Sam Brownback last week has caused many uncertainties but may not stop a recently announced plan to reduce class size there.
The district has announced it would use its reserves to address the budget reductions that were put in place to deal with the state’s impending cash flow problem.
Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson has been working on a plan to shuffle administrative jobs that he said would eventually result in a better pupil-teacher ratio.
The plan, presented to school board members, was billed as the first step in getting more resources into classrooms. “I know this is something you have talked to us a lot about,” he said to board members at a meeting Jan. 26.
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Hinson told board members the changes in the administrative flow chart should save the district an estimated $1.5 million per year — money that would then be used to reduce the maximum classroom sizes. For instance, class size caps would be reduced to 27 from 29 in third grade and 27 from 30 in fourth through sixth grades.
All that was predicated on level funding from Topeka and no significant aid reductions. Hinson told the board that there would be resources to reduce the administrative footprint, “if we don’t lose millions of dollars this coming year from decisions being made in Topeka.”
But a few days later, Brownback announced $44.5 million in cuts in schools and universities across the state.
In Johnson County, Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Blue Valley take the biggest hits. The amount Shawnee Mission will lose comes close to the amount Hinson proposed to save.
Early estimates from the state Department of Education say the Shawnee Mission District can expect a reduction in state aid from $3,852 per pupil to $3,810.50. In a news release shortly after Brownback’s announcement, the district said it would address the shortfall with reserves, but did not give details.
District officials are still sorting out what that will mean for the administrative restructuring and hope to have more clarification at the Feb. 23 meeting, said spokesperson Leigh Anne Neal.
The reorganization is possible because of an early retirement plan offered to teachers last year.
Some 180 teachers accepted the buyout, Neal said. The incentive package was agreed upon by the district and the teachers’ union late last year and had a Feb. 2 deadline. The school board on Monday gave officials an extension of that deadline for administrative staff to Feb. 23.
The vacancies created by the early retirements make it possible to move administrators out of the front office and back into the classroom without layoffs.
The superintendent did not say how many administrative jobs would end, and Neal said that is among the details still to be worked out.
Also undecided is the number of positions vacated by retiring teachers that will be filled. Neal said the district is still discussing staffing needs with school principals before making final decisions.
Hinson said the state cutbacks will present challenges to the district in purchasing contracts already in place for this year.
“Our focus remains on providing outstanding educational services for our students to prepare them for the future and meet the expectations of our community,” he said in a press release. The cutbacks are “unfortunate, but will not deter our mission.”