Hinson says he expects schools to open as scheduled, Shawnee Mission not making contingency plans

Superintendent Jim Hinson said the district is in "full planning mode" for the normal start of school this fall.
Superintendent Jim Hinson said the district is in “full planning mode” for the normal start of school this fall.

Saying he doesn’t expect Kansas to become the first state in the nation’s history to have all of its public schools shut down by court order, Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson told reporters Thursday that the district was not making contingency plans for a delayed start to the 2016-17 school year.

“We are fully planning being operational July 1, and we are fully planning for school to start on August 12,” Hinson said.

Hinson’s remarks, made during a press conference at Showanoe Elementary, come a day after the legislature officially adjourned for the year without addressing the Supreme Court’s latest ruling on school funding. Consequently, the legislature would have to meet during a special session that can only be convened by the governor if it is to pass a fix that will meet the court’s requirements on equitable financing before the June 30 deadline.

Hinson noted that the court’s equity ruling deals with only a small fraction – approximately 1 percent — of school funding, and that he personally believed it was difficult for the court to rule on the equity portion of the Gannon case without having addressed the much larger adequacy issue that still hangs in the balance.

“One of the questions that we have is in relation to how can you define equity when you have yet to define adequacy, because they are so interrelated,” Hinson said.

But Hinson also made clear his disappointment with the lack of leadership from the legislature and the governor’s office on the creation of a new, long-term school finance formula. When Brownback started promoting the block grant bill — which the Shawnee Mission School District ultimately supported, though local elected officials voted against it — in early 2015, he said it would represent a “time out” in the war over school funding and give all parties the space to create a new, sustainable formula. Progress on that front since the block grant bill was passed last spring has been almost non-existent.

“My belief is that the goal was to give all of us the time to carefully craft a school finance formula. To my knowledge, not much, if any, action has really occurred in that regard,” Hinson said. “We need a very clear path to create a new school finance formula. And that needs to be a very transparent plan, understanding that not everyone is going to agree. And that’s okay. But we need to be having these conversations, and they should have been occurring long before now.”

He also chided all interested parties — the legislature, the education community, and the courts — for the continued bickering over school funding. Noting that the formula that was replaced by the block grant bill was passed back in 1992 in response to another lawsuit, Hinson told attendees he believe it was time stop playing politics with schools.

“There are a lot of different individuals and parties that are at fault here. The most difficult thing we can do is to paint each other into a corner. No one wins when that occurs,” he said. “It’s our kids that are in the middle of this, and that is wrong.”

To that end, Hinson said he was prepared to support a temporary plan that would restore the equalization provision from the old formula that sent Johnson County tax dollars to rural, less property-rich districts if it would keep schools open.

“We all have to do things that we don’t necessarily like,” he said. “It’s not beneficial for Shawnee Mission…but swallow hard, develop a short term solution, satisfy what we think will satisfy the court, and then work on a very transparent plan to create a new school finance formula.”

Full audio of Hinson’s remarks from the press conference are embedded below.