Hinson warns reduction in state aid for Shawnee Mission ‘highly likely;’ district prepared to dip into reserves

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Citing state budget numbers that simply don’t add up, Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson said on Thursday that the school district expects to receive less than its promised allotment under the block grant bill passed in March and that it was making contingency plans in hopes of avoiding employee furloughs or other cost cutting measures in the middle of the school year.

“We are trying to prepare ourselves for, will we lose $1.5 [million], will we lose $5 million? What will it really look like?” he told the board of education at the district’s monthly meeting. “We are following the state revenues on a monthly basis very, very carefully. I want to make it very clear that as we look at our fund balances, we have a very strong belief right now that it’s highly likely that we will have reductions or withholdings as this fiscal year continues.”

The state missed projected revenues for June — which had been revised downward after significant underperformance in the previous several months — by more than $22 million. Those lower-than-expected revenues coupled with the fact that Gov. Sam Brownback is already tasked with making $50 million in cuts as part of the budget bill passed on the record 113th day of the last session likely spell trouble for public school funding.

Hinson said the chances of the district having to dip into its reserves was quite likely.

“As you know, we have worked diligently to try to prepare for the worst case scenario. We’ve made significant adjustments to our budget,” Hinson said. “We do not want to be in a position during the school where you are considering furloughing employees, canceling programs. We think we have prepared that we don’t have to do those things. But the likelihood of us eating into fund balances is very high.”

The bad financial news comes at an odd time for Shawnee Mission, which on Thursday also celebrated the fact that it had eliminated all-day kindergarten fees and elementary school textbook fees. All-day kindergarten fees would have brought in approximately $1.8 million in revenue for the district for the 2015-16 school year.

But, said Hinson, the elimination of kindergarten fees was a priority for the board, and one that they had established based on overwhelming input from district patrons.

“We’ve been concerned for well over a year that the state was going to be in this fiscal picture,” he said after the meeting Thursday. “But we’ve tried to position ourself well to absorb anything that might happen. So we still have to be careful, in how we spend our money or don’t spend our money. But I think we’re in a great position in the elimination of kindergarten fees.”