Northeast Joco

Shawnee Mission schools bracing for cuts of ‘multiple millions of dollars’ to cover Kansas budget shortfall

“How do we do more with less?”

This was the question Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson posed at Monday’s school board meeting amid news of Kansas’ latest budget crisis. At a time when education costs are rising, the Shawnee Mission School District could see its budget reduced as the state looks to cut $57 million or more from K-12 education.

“If that occurs we do not know how that pie will be sliced,” Hinson said. “We do know however they slice the pie will be multiple millions of dollars loss of revenue to the Shawnee Mission School District.”

Kansas lawmakers are dealing with a $290 million hole in the budget. Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed, in part, a 3 to 5 percent cut in spending from most state agencies, including K-12 public schools and state universities. A 3 percent reduction to K-12 schools would be about $57 million.

Hinson said board would normally have completed its new budget by now but can’t because of the state uncertainty.

“I don’t have a bright picture to paint for you at all in relation to finances. We’re prepared as much as possible for what might occur, but as we look to the future we do not see any immediate relief to this situation,” Hinson said.

The potential cuts to state aid also come at a time when the district is dealing with rising costs in areas like utilities and bus service fees. The district’s bus service provider, First Student, has continued to push for a 20 percent increase in fees that would amount to $1 million dollars.

Deputy Superintendent Ken Southwick has been negotiating the contract with First Student over the past several months and said the increase was needed to help the company secure a wage that would ensure they could attract bus drivers. The district had 36 fewer drivers than they needed last week. Bus drivers in the Shawnee Mission School District are paid $14 per hour, while drivers in other districts, such as Olathe, are paid $16 per hour.

“Anyone that wants to drive a bus can drive just a few miles down the road and do that for a couple dollars more per hour. The $16 per hour is more in line with what the market is across the entire metro area. So they’re having to come to us to discuss their issues of trying to secure drivers,” Southwick said.

A new bus contract would likely go to the board in May.

In other news Monday, the board discussed a new signature program that would expand information and communication technologies learning opportunities for students. The district’s signature programs allow high school students to explore specific areas of study, such as animation, biotechnology, culinary arts and legal studies.

At-large board member Cindy Neighbor was pleased with the new program and believed expanding IT learning opportunities was key to ensuring student success in a more global society.