In the end, there were no dramatics — no heated debate, no vote counting, no gasps from the crowd.
Instead, the Shawnee Mission School Board simply sat on its hands, deciding against exercising its right to veto the tax increment financing project that will bring an 88-acre public park to the Meadowbrook Country Club property. But the days leading up to Wednesday morning’s special meeting were extremely tense, with the Prairie Village governing body and administration angling to ensure their coveted project for northeast Johnson County would go through after comments from school board members cast the district’s support in doubt.
“Obviously, we’re very relieved,” said Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer after the meeting. “I appreciated their discussion and I appreciate the situation that the school board is in. I understand that economic development is important to the cities — in the long run, it does benefit the schools. I’m glad that they saw that this project was worthwhile and was worth approving.”
Superintendent Jim Hinson specified the district’s concerns about the impact of TIF on school finances in his opening remarks, noting that the district faces the challenge of building the infrastructure necessary to educate new students that might come into the district as a result of the project. With the TIF in place, the district would see no new revenue from the Meadowbrook property even if the project attracted new students to the district. This issue is compounded by the fact that the block grant bill passed by the legislature earlier this year does not include any provisions to increase districts’ funding even as enrollment grows.
During the meeting, a number of members of the board of education emphasized that they had nothing against the Meadowbrook park, and that their questions about the project’s impact on school finances were simply a matter of performing their due diligence. At-large board member Brad Stratton said he was sorry if there had been a perception that the board was antagonistic to the project.
“I’ll also add an apology to those that felt that perhaps an angst was created,” he said. “I personally apologize if the timeliness seems unnecessary or unwarranted, but we are at the front end of a process here. We are learning. We are developing TIF policy. And so all of this conversation and dialogue has been helpful.”
Board members Deb Zila and Sara Goodburn said after the meeting that they expected for the body to adopt a formal policy on TIF within the next couple of months — policy that would create a clear standard for whether a TIF project could get the district’s support.
“We’ve already seen drafts,” Zila said.
Wassmer noted that the city and its partners were still in the process of finalizing the development agreement, which must be adopted by the governing body as one of the final steps before the deal is official. She estimated that the city should have the agreement completed in the next month.