Shawnee Mission legislative issues forecast a repeat of familiar battles

A draft legislative platform for the Shawnee Mission School District so far looks quite a bit like last year’s. And some of the same battles fought on education issues are likely to be repeated, according to the district’s lobbyist.

SMSD-logoThis week the board saw a first draft of a 2014 legislative agenda at a brief workshop and the positions look strikingly familiar. “Support greater opportunities to raise funds at the local level” was at the top. Funding has been a constant issue for the school district over the last several years during which millions of dollars have been cut from the operating budget, a few hundred employees have been trimmed from the district and several schools have been closed.

Stuart Little, the district’s lobbyist in Topeka, laid out a number of initiatives that were on the table in the 2013 session and that he predicts will be back in 2014. Among those are a push for a constitutional amendment that would take school funding decisions out of the hands of the courts. Superintendent Jim Hinson said the Gannon decision, the funding lawsuit now before the state supreme court, could change a lot of the dynamic next session.

At the same time Shawnee Mission is discussing its positions, the Kansas Republican House Campaign Committee is distributing a flyer that suggests dire consequences if the legislature loses the Gannon suit and is forced to spend more on schools: a drastic reallocation of state resources or a 20 percent increase in property taxes. It also argues that education funding has increased considerably, a position counter to that of Shawnee Mission and other districts.

“I’m not exactly sure what is going to happen (in the legislative session),” Little told the board. Also expected to be back are efforts to stall the Common Core standards, provide tax credits for contributions to private schools and move school board elections to the fall. All of those are opposed by the Shawnee Mission draft platform and have been opposed by the district in the past.