With area property values rising, Shawnee Mission School District proposes small tax decrease for 2015-16 budget

SM-Admin-building

By Dawn Bormann

The SM School District has proposed a $379 million budget that includes a property tax rate decrease for the 2015-16 school year.

The proposal includes eliminating fees for all-day kindergarten and elementary school textbook fees – a commitment Superintendent Jim Hinson made earlier this year. However it includes a major caveat. The state must fully fund the block grant bill it passed earlier this year. The Kansas Legislature has yet to conclude its work.

“We don’t have the legislature in the black yet,” said board member Cindy Neighbor. “Until somebody sings it’s not over.”

If the proposal is approved, the overall tax rate would drop by 1.36 percent. It equates to about $18 in annual savings for the owner of a $200,000 home, said Russ Knapp, the district’s manager of budget and finance.

The district has built in several plans to save money but it has also eliminated some fees that will decrease revenue.

The district will lose about $1.8 million in revenue by eliminating kindergarten fees and $800,000 from elementary textbook fees.

But it significantly lessens the burden on families, said Board President Deb Zila.

Kindergarten fees cost a family $2,400 annually and textbook fees were $80.

“The fees are really tough on parents,” Zila said, who said she once had three kids in elementary school at the same time.

She worried that the kindergarten fee was too great of a burden for many families.

“We don’t want to make that a stumbling block for them to send their kids to kindergarten,” she said.

The process was accomplished, she and other district officials said, by reallocating funds and saving money elsewhere.

The most noticeable change is the assessed valuation, which is expected to increase 5.57 percent this year bringing in significantly more revenue for the district.

The board also took some aggressive steps this year to help decrease spending.

One of the biggest changes was the employee retirement buyout.

The budget also reflects 47 fewer full time employees. The number doesn’t include retirees but rather several paraprofessionals and aides.

The district also plans to delay a major textbook purchase as it looks further into creating its own electronic textbooks. The concept has been used in several other districts across the country. Some Shawnee Mission teachers have already explored the idea on smaller scales, administrators said.

As it stands, the budget proposal does not include a salary increase for teachers. The negotiation team is expected to meet again in June but it’s unclear what impact that could have on the overall budget request.

The budget process will continue into August. A public hearing is set for the board’s meeting on Aug. 3. The board’s budget presentation and more detailed documents are available here.

Board member Cindy Neighbor said she was disappointed to see only a few people attend the budget workshop where the board discussed its financial accounts in greater detail. It’s exactly the type of transparency that some in Topeka ask for, she said.

“We don’t have one legislator. We don’t have a lot of people who are community members. It saddens me that there is not more desire to know what we are doing with the district,” she said. “It would be interesting if people actually paid attention to this and came and asked questions. It’s a good time to learn.”