Rift over state school finance formula has Shawnee Mission considering dropping Kansas Association of School Boards membership

Shawnee Mission Board of Education member Cindy Neighbor, a former KASB president, urged a cautious approach to the district's consideration of dropping out of the group. File photo.
Shawnee Mission Board of Education member Cindy Neighbor, a former KASB president, urged a cautious approach to the district’s consideration of dropping out of the group. File photo.

The Shawnee Mission Board of Education is considering dropping its membership with the Kansas Association of School Boards.

The discussion comes after a year when the district’s board found itself sharply divided about school finance with the association.

“I think there are times when our philosophy and our position is not reflected by KASB,” said Shawnee Mission Board of Education member Craig Denny.

The board favored block grant funding while the association, which represents a diverse group of districts, lobbied against the plan.

Aside from the political differences, Denny questioned the board’s overall ability to have a voice on the board. The association structures fees in part based on enrollment. But it doesn’t offer the district more votes. It means the district pays $20,000 annually, but yields only one vote.

“So one vote of Shawnee Mission is equal to any vote of any district in the state,” he said.

Others took a more cautious approach.

Board Member Cindy Neighbor, a former KASB president, agreed that not all school districts share Shawnee Mission’s view. But even through differences, they are able to learn new ideas from one another with the enrichment seminars and webinars provided by KASB.

“Every district in this state is different,” she said. “The one thing we do have is the ability to learn from others, see what people are doing, how are they doing it? What are they making work that we aren’t doing yet?

Neighbor said the district has some sway considering that Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Olathe all have a seat on the KASB governing board.

Yet Neighbor said she was open to the possibility that other national boards could provide the enrichment.

“I would hate to close the door to our learning opportunities but I think we also have to weigh what we gain,” she said.

She asked Superintendent Jim Hinson his thoughts.

He agreed that there are distinct differences between Shawnee Mission and other districts.

“I think there are certainly positives from belonging, but I think we also have to be realistic. There are some things we don’t agree with,” Hinson said.

He also agreed that it was good to have a seat at the table of KASB discussion.

“One side of me says that we need to be very careful…and be a part of the discussion,” he said. “We might differ with other school districts in relation to the school finance plan but we have a lot of issues in common.”

Board Member Patty Mach said she echoed Denny’s sentiment. She’s taken part in seminars and task force committees that have created strong relationships among other board members.

“Relationships are good things to have. Can you have them outside of KASB? I don’t know the answer to that but I’m glad we’re having this discussion,” Mach said.

The board, which has dropped its membership before, will vote in June whether to fund enrollment for another year.