Shawnee Mission won’t apply for controversial innovative school district status

The Shawnee Mission School District will not be one of the Kansas districts applying to be part of a new Coalition of Innovative School Districts this year.

Dr. Jim Hinson
Dr. Jim Hinson

The innovative school districts bill passed the Kansas Legislature in 2013. It allows up to 10 percent of Kansas school districts to join the coalition and be freed from “all laws and rules and regulations that are applicable to school districts.” It then names a few exceptions to that freedom, including the school finance law. All of the northeast Johnson County legislative delegation (Sen. Wolf and Reps. Rooker, Bollier, Clayton and Perry) voted against the bill.

Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson told the school board Monday that the timing was not right for the district to apply because it is in the midst of crafting a strategic plan. The deadline for applications is Dec. 1.

Earlier in the meeting, Shawnee Mission NEA President Nancy Fritz had spoken against Shawnee Mission applying for membership in the coalition. Fritz noted that the concept is opposed by the Kansas State Department of Education and PTAs across the state. The removal of restrictions, Fritz said, would include due process for teachers.

“I believe decisions are best made by a Shawnee Mission board (and I) believe we can be a true innovative district,” Fritz said. “Applying for the coalition would jeopardize the relationship we have worked so hard to construct.”

Hinson said it is not the district’s position to go after collective bargaining rules. He related that the district has had internal discussions about what it means to be innovative and any state-imposed impediments to innovation.

Several board members indicated that they did not want to join the coalition. “The only part that is interesting to me is that we all want to have innovative districts,” Donna Bysfield said. Board member Patty Mach noted that she had heard from several patrons: “(this is) a good non-recommendation,” she said.

In June, Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane DeBacker asked the Kansas Attorney General for an opinion about the innovative districts act, specifically if it violates the Kansas Constitution. She said the department believes it is in violation on several counts. Attorney General Derek Schmidt refused to issue an opinion, saying it is part of the Gannon litigation on school finance.

The coalition of innovative districts has been criticized on a number of counts. Among them that it is a model bill from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that has pushed school voucher and privatization as part of its agenda, a point which Fritz made in her comments.

Another criticism is that the first members of the coalition are picked by the governor and two legislative chairs. After that the governor appoints a chairman of the coalition board, made up of members from the participating districts. Another issue has been the length of time before an assessment of success.

Dr. Hinson said he believed some Johnson County districts will be applying.