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Shawnee Mission feels budget pinch, but a new elementary school is in the works

File illustration

The Shawnee Mission School District will spend $2 million more than it takes in during the current school year, and the situation could become even more difficult without a new school finance formula, Superintendent Jim Hinson said at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting.

No one spoke during the public hearing that preceded the board’s unanimous approval of a $445 million budget for the school year that started last week.

But Hinson cautioned that legislative action on a new, statewide school-finance formula and a much-anticipated Supreme Court ruling on the adequacy of Topeka’s K-12 funding loom over the heads of educators.

“Will the state have the ability to fund at the level they’ve committed to? Would we see allocation withholding? It’s a possibility,” Hinson said. “We need a formula that will be beneficial to all the school districts in the state.”

Board member Brad Stratton asked what would happen if lawmakers issue a third year of block grant funding, rather than a new funding formula.

“That would bring back memories you don’t want to relive,” Hinson said. “As our costs continue to increase, we could have to make some cuts we don’t want to make. We need a new formula. The Legislature needs to complete that task successfully.”

The $2 million in deficit spending in this year’s budget reflects increases in costs, including transportation and utilities, the district said. The district will mainly reach into its reserves to cover the deficit.

There is money in the budget, however, for capital expenditures as a result of a $223 million bond issue passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2015.

On Monday, the board voted to spend about $1.84 million to buy 25 acres on the northwest corner of 87th Street Parkway and Haven Street to build a new elementary school that will feed into Shawnee Mission West High School.

The new elementary school would be about a mile west of Interstate 435.

There is no time-table for construction, and the next steps would include hiring an architect, the district said. The new school would not replace an existing West-area elementary school.

Hinson noted that each of the district ‘s five high schools will have a new feeder elementary school built with bond funding.

The new elementary school site is just west of the site of the forthcoming Shawnee Mission Aquatic Center that will cost $18 million to $20 million — another bond-funded project that got some attention from the board Monday night.

The board unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding to have the Johnson County Park & Recreation District manage the new aquatic center for the district. Attorney Fred Logan said the district would get priority on using the indoor pool, but that it would work with the county, allowing it to rent out the natatorium at other times and “maximize revenue to operate the center.”

The proposal calls for a 10-year agreement with the county, renewable for five more years at a time. Logan said he expected to bring a final agreement to the board at its September meeting.

Several other bond-funded projects were updated at Monday’s meeting. Hinson announced that new Briarwood and Trailwood elementary school buildings would be ready for move-in after the winter break. The new Crestview Elementary School should be ready for students after spring break, while the new Rhein Benninghoven Elementary will be ready for the 2017-18 school year.

Also under construction, though not with bond funding, is the Center for Academic Achievement, which will host district offices and “signature” programs like culinary education and the brand-new Blue Eagle Program, which will train students for careers in law and law enforcement and as firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

It is expected to open in early 2017.

The board approved the installation of three KCP&L electric vehicle-charging stations in the parking lot of the new center, and it agreed to consider a name for the building, including the possibility of selling naming rights to a for-profit corporation or charitable entity.

The board also requested that Hinson appoint a new middle school task force, to continue the work of that group for a second school year. Hinson cautioned the board to be “methodical” in approaching the possibility of moving sixth-grade classes into middle schools.

Whatever the district decides will have far-reaching implications, he said, including the potential for school attendance boundary changes.

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