Northeast Joco

Shawnee Mission school board OKs $468 million budget with spending hike but tax drop

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More than a month after the new fiscal year started, the Shawnee Mission school board has signed off on an annual budget that increases spending while still providing a slight dip in property tax rates.

Board members on Thursday voted unanimously to approve the $467.8 million spending plan. Not including fund transfers, the plan pays for $359 million in actual expenditures, a 10 percent increase from the previous budget year.

The school district’s fiscal year began July 1, but the school board had to put the budget process on hold until the Kansas Legislature approved a new school funding formula, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law in June. The board also had to see if the Kansas Supreme Court would allow school districts to use the formula while it determines if the level of money provided is adequate.

That formula provides an additional $14.5 million in state revenue. The property mill rate will actually decrease 1.297 mills, or about $30 for the owner for a $200,000 home.

Chief Financial Officer Russell Knapp said the budget currently includes an $11.6 million surplus, but he added, “it’ll probably be targeted for quite a few things here in the next month or two.”

At the top of that list is possible staff salary and benefit increases. The school board has yet to work out a new annual contract with the district’s teachers, although both sides said they are planning for another negotiation session in the next two weeks.

The National Education Association-Shawnee Mission has requested a 4.5 percent salary increase for all teachers and for the district to cover any increases in medical insurance premiums. The district has counter-offered with either a 4 percent raise and no premium increase or a 4.5 percent raise and the teachers pay the higher premiums.

In addition to operational expenditures, the new budget includes $58.3 million in capital outlay, which pays for new school buildings and other major construction. Most of the money comes from bond sales approved by voters in 2015.

In other business, the board unanimously approved a contract with Ray and Associates Inc. to spearhead the search for a permanent district superintendent. Kenny Southwick has served as interim superintendent since Jim Hinson’s abrupt retirement at the end of June.

Representatives for Ray and Associates, which helped the district find and hire Hinson in 2013, said they wanted to schedule a public meeting with the board as soon as possible to draw up a timeline for the search process and determine who should be asked for input.

The board has said it would not choose a superintendent until after the November election to give newly elected board members a say.

The contract has a base price of $25,000 plus any travel, lodging or other expenses of the consultants and superintendent candidates.

The board also received an update from officials with DS Bus Lines, which took over operation of district school buses from First Student Inc. this summer. Company president Scott Kincaid said most drivers were on time in the first two weeks of the school year as they learned and refined hundreds of newly plotted bus routes serving 8,800 students. He said DS Bus Lines provided the district with 226 buses, 90 percent of which are new, and hired more than 300 drivers, mechanics and other personnel in 90 days.

The company said it will report back to board members in January as well as at the end of the school year to evaluate its performance and to suggest ways the district could make its bus service more efficient and less costly.

Board members also heard from parents who said that either because of geography or recent changes in school attendance boundaries they were not allowed to vote in this month’s primary for the person that would represent their children’s schools.

Stacy Hetz, who has children attending Apache Elementary, said that while she lives in the Shawnee Mission West feeder area she and her neighbors were told they lived in a pocket outside of the board district.

“It is unfair that residents do not have a voice in who represents them,” she said.

The board rarely responds to comments made during the public input section of its meetings. But Board President Craig Denny told the audience that the school feeder areas do not exactly match their corresponding board districts because state law requires the board districts to have roughly equal population and the Johnson County Board of Elections does not allow split election precincts. Denny said the board cannot adjust the districts until after the 2020 Census. In the meantime, he said residents in those contested areas are still represented by and can vote for the two at-large members of the board.

David Twiddy: