Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson said Thursday he was optimistic that the district’s schools will open on time in August, despite a gridlock this week on the school funding issue in the state capital.
Hinson called on lawmakers to find a short-term fix to Kansas’ school funding issues after the Legislature chose Wednesday not to take up a Kansas Supreme Court order to fix inequities in school funding.
Under last week’s ruling, the Legislature must fix the school finance formula by June 30 or face the threat of schools closing.
Hinson, who oversees the third-largest school district in Kansas, said the district is not creating a contingency plan. He said the district will remain in operation throughout the summer and plans to open on time on Aug. 12.
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Hinson said the only way that would not happen is if the Supreme Court issued a court order directing the schools to stay closed. He said he has been in discussion with the district’s legal counsel about how the district can move forward.
The regular legislative session ended Wednesday, but legislators say they are now expecting to return to find a fix for the funding issue during a special session sometime in June. Gov. Sam Brownback would have to call the special session and has yet to do so.
Brownback criticized the court in a statement Wednesday:
“I will work with the Attorney General and Legislative leadership to respond aggressively and appropriately to any action taken by the Kansas Supreme Court to close our schools,” Brownback said. “Kansas has great schools and they should remain open. The Court should not be playing politics with our children’s education.”
During Thursday’s news conference, Hinson repeatedly asked for leadership and direction from Brownback’s office on the issue but said no single entity is to blame for the current situation.
“Everybody has responsibility for the situation that we’re in, but the most important factor is that we have a duty,” Hinson said. “We have a responsibility to the children of our state.”
Some local representatives at the news conference were less generous and said it is the sole responsibility of the Legislature to find a solution before the June 30 deadline.
“Dr. Hinson was right, we need to put aside politics, we need to do our jobs,” said Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican.
Rep. Linda Gallagher, a Lenexa Republican, agreed and said a special session is now required. She said parents in her district are angry and want a solution.
“They want us to fix this,” Gallagher said. “They don’t want to hear excuses.”
Gallagher said she came prepared to find a solution Wednesday, but legislative leadership was not willing to work on a funding fix. She said the issue was further complicated by a $74.5 million shortfall in the May revenue estimates.
On Wednesday, however, some legislators said they didn’t want to rush a plan, and others called for defying the court.
Hinson said Thursday that what is needed now is a short-term fix that would allow schools to open in August while lawmakers create a clear path forward to redo the school finance formula. He said many believe the court would be satisfied if the state returned to the previous funding formula, which was repealed last year. Lawmakers may need to allocate nearly $40 million in additional funding to satisfy the court ruling.
“We have been litigating school finance in Kansas for decades now. For decades,” Hinson said.
He said legislators need to eventually create a long-term fix to school finance.
Miranda Davis: 816-234-4166, @mirandardavis