Shawnee Mission planning to reduce class sizes, eliminate all-day kindergarten fees if expected block grant funding comes through

Dr. Jim Hinson and Gov. Sam Brownback talked about all-day kindergarten at Roesland Elementary.
Dr. Jim Hinson and Gov. Sam Brownback talked about state funding for all-day kindergarten at Roesland Elementary in January 2014. On Monday, Hinson announced Shawnee Mission’s plans to fund all-day kindergarten by itself.

If the funding for Shawnee Mission schools written in to the block grant bill signed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback last week comes through as planned, the district intends to reduce class sizes and eliminate some fees next year, Superintendent Jim Hinson told the Board of Education Monday.

Based on the funding projections for the coming school year — projections that Hinson was quick to point out are tenuous at best given the controversy and legal actions surrounding the new plan — Shawnee Mission would be able to reduce its maximum class size for fourth grade from 29 to 27 students; and in fifth and sixth grades from 30 to 27 students. Additionally, the district plans to eliminate the textbook fees for elementary schools and all fees for kindergarten. That means parents could choose to send their children to full-day kindergarten instead of half-day kindergarten without incurring any extra expenses. The textbook fee for elementary students this year was $80.

“We have reduced our administrative footprint, and we have the funds for that to happen,” Hinson said, “unless they are taken away by our legislators in Topeka.”

Saying that the district had been “very diligent in reallocation of our resources and frugal in some areas” to make the planned changes financially feasible, Hinson cautioned that the extreme uncertainty around school finances for next school year made it difficult to predict exactly how things would play out.

Should the block grant funding be reduced — either by the legislature’s refusal to provide the funds, a court order blocking implementation of the bill, or some other unforseen change — Shawnee Mission could instead be looking at more belt-tightening measures.

“We’re talking about eliminating fees for kindergarten and eliminating textbook fees for elementary and reducing class size,” Hinson said. “The other end of the pendulum, we could be talking about a reduction in the force of employees. I mean, it is that significant.”