District budget nightmare looms on horizon warn administrators, experts

The SM North auditorium was filled with cheers — and dire warnings about the district's budget — Monday night.

Raucous cheers filled the SM North auditorium after the board of education pocketed the proposal to reassign Brookwood to the SM South attendance area. But the happiness of many parents in the audience must have been tempered by the stark assessment of the district’s financial situation echoed time and again Monday night.

Committee for Excellence chair Fred Logan told the board early in the evening that they faced a set of very difficult policy choices. He said that a commitment to preserving small class sizes and teachers’ jobs in the district was made incredibly difficult by the “horrendous” budget situation brought about by the Kansas school funding formula originally passed in 1992.

“The budget crisis is real,” Logan said. “It is not fantasy.”

Logan’s sentiments were reiterated by board vice president Craig Denny, who closed the board meeting with a somber reflection on the district’s financial situation. Last Tuesday’s elections, he noted, swept in a conservative Republican majority that pushed out a number of the legislators who engineered the one-cent tax increase that preserved school funding for the current school year. Without a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans willing to work together to find ways to finance education, Denny said, school districts throughout the state could face dire circumstances. The state is already facing a $50 million shortfall for the current fiscal year, and the district is looking at continued deficit spending.

“I don’t know where we are going to find the money, but there are people in out state Kansas who think we [the district] shouldn’t have it,” Denny said. “And that is a problem.”

Board member Cindy Neighbor, in her remarks at the end of the meeting, strongly encouraged the parents who had been active in lobbying for or against the superintendent’s proposals to let their legislators know they wanted support for Shawnee Mission Schools.

“In the next two years, our path is going to be difficult,” she said. “I encourage you all to become proactive in letting your legislators know you care. Not just about your school, but about what’s best for Shawnee Mission.”