Despite objections from parents and school board member Patty Mach, the Shawnee Mission School Board Thursday stuck with its original plan to change elementary school boundaries.
Many of the parents in the district had attending a public information meeting at the district headquarters in Overland Park on Tuesday to express concerns and ask questions about proposed changes.
Because of some concerns on the original plan, which was passed Thursday, Mach was instrumental in proposing another option, which became known as Plan B.
Board members voted 5-2 to approve Plan A, which would slightly increase Shawanoe Elementary school’s population to about 510 students. The percentage on reduced price lunches would go from 76 percent to 81 percent. The Shawanoe boundaries would have been unchanged in Plan B.
The new boundaries will go into effect in fall of 2018.
Some board members tried to allay the concerns of the public about switching elementary schools.
“It is horrible until you get there, and you really begin to belong,” said board member Donna Bysfield.
Mach and Brad Stratton voted against Plan A.
The several dozen Shawnee Mission School District parents Tuesday weighed in on the latest proposal for adjusting elementary school attendance boundaries.
District officials released the proposal, titled “Plan B,” on Friday after receiving comments and concerns from parents and even some school board members about the original slate of adjustments, “Plan A.”
The district is looking to change the boundaries for between eight and nine elementary school districts in order to ease overcrowding, prepare for the 2018 opening of Lenexa Hills Elementary and otherwise address expected boosts in residential development.
Many of the parents attending a public information meeting at the district headquarters in Overland Park on Tuesday expressed concerns about proposed changes to Rising Star Elementary School.
Under Plan B, Rising Star would have seen its student population drop from more than 600 to an estimated 478. At the same time, however, the percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced price lunches was estimated to increase from 56 percent to 67 percent.
Several parents said the changes would move many single-family homes out of the school’s attendance area and those tend to be the parents most involved in school activities or parent-teacher groups.
“Plan B decimates the PTA, the neighborhoods,” said Todd Van Deventer, whose children would remain at Rising Star and whose wife would be one of the few remaining PTA leaders for the school. “It would take the neighborhood out of the neighborhood school.”
By contrast, Plan A causes some of the same concerns for Shawanoe Elementary, where the student population would increase slightly but the percentage of free or reduced price lunches would increase. Under Plan B, Shawanoe’s boundaries would not change.
Jen Hight, whose children currently attend Rising Star but would likely have had to move to Christa McAuliffe Elementary under Plan B, said she isn’t concerned about moving schools. But she said she worries what problems would be left behind for the students at Rising Star.
“They need a new plan,” Hight said. “Neither of these plans work as a whole for everyone. They need to sit down and really think about where they can make changes that are equally effective for all schools.”
Besides Rising Star, Christa McAuliffe, and Lenexa Hills, Plan B would have affected boundaries for Broken Arrow, Mill Creek, Rhein Benninghoven and Sunflower elementary schools. The plan also would have changed a boundary for Rosehill Elementary that would affect a single student. Plan A affects those schools plus Shawanoe.
Scott and Melissa Reed, whose daughter goes to Shawanoe, said they preferred Plan A, which would move their daughter to Mill Creek Elementary and, they said, give her a school with greater parental involvement.
“It’s disappointing that this has been such a wishy-washy process,” Scott Reed said. “I think there are more factors that should go into (the board’s) decision other than just numbers.”
Scott Reed added that he worried that many parents at Shawanoe, where 55 percent of students speak English as a second language, haven’t had a chance to weigh in as most of the district communication has been in English only.
Other parents said they were still forming an opinion of the plans.
Brad and Kim Kliethermes said none of the previous plans had affected where they were sending their daughter, who currently attends Christa McAuliffe. In fact, they said they had spoken with several parents nervous about moving to Christa McAuliffe to tell them what a great school it was.
Then, they found out on Friday that Plan B would have moved them to Mill Creek Elementary.
“I don’t want this to be an emotional decision, just because I don’t like change. We want to be well-informed,” Kim Kliethermes said. “We’ll be fine no matter how the dice rolls. We’ve heard good things about the school we would go to.”
Mach said that because changes were necessary to adjust for the new Lenexa school, the western schools should make more changes. For instance, she questioned the boundaries of Sunflower Elementary, which will be nearer the new school.
“I’d like to see that area make more changes because that is where the new school is going to be,” she said.
Mach said the board should keep its word to the Rhein Benninghoven parents who had been told their students would go to Mill Creek Elementary. The Plan A boundaries mean those students will now pass Mill Creek and go to Christa McAuliffe Elementary, she said.
“Plan B, although it is not perfect, is still the better plan,” she said.
However Assistant Superintendent Michelle Hubbard said the area across the street to the west of Sunflower is expected to grow, and that putting those potential new students in Lenexa Hills would mean they would have to drive away from a school they can see from their own homes.
Board Member Cindy Neighbor said boundary changes are always painful, but that the original plan is better.
“Our goal at Shawnee Mission is to treat all children – and I do mean all – the same,” she said.