Shawnee Mission school board approves ‘Plan A’ boundary changes for 8 schools on 5-2 vote

Eleven days after postponing the decision so it could consider an alternative plan based on the suggestions of Shawnee Mission Northwest area representative Patty Mach, the Shawnee Mission School Board at a special meeting on Thursday gave final approval to a series of boundary changes for elementary schools west of I-35 that will go into effect for the 2018-19 school year.

Rhein Benninghoven, which is having a new building completed this summer, is one of the elementaries affected by the boundary changes.
Rhein Benninghoven, which is having a new building completed this summer, is one of the elementaries affected by the boundary changes.

The boundary changes affect the following schools:

  • Broken Arrow
  • Christa McAuliffe
  • Lenexa Hills
  • Mill Creek
  • Rhein Benninghoven
  • Rising Star
  • Shawanoe
  • Sunflower

A summary of the boundary changes approved by the board Thursday can be found here.

The board had approved minor changes for two elementary schools east of I-35 — East Antioch Elementary and Overland Park Elementary — at its May 22 meeting. But Mach asked the board to table consideration of the proposal for eight schools west of the highway over concerns that changes proposed for the Shawanoe feeder area would increase the proportion of students in free-and-reduced lunch programs from its current 76 percent up to 81 percent. Mach suggested a series of tweaks that she believed would accomplish many of the district’s goals without adversely affecting Shawanoe. The district released a “Plan B” boundary realignment plan last Friday based on Mach’s suggestions and then held a community meeting Tuesday to get input from parents.

On Thursday, Assistant Superintendent Michelle Hubbard presented the board with the revised plan, and also summarized the feedback the administration had gotten from parents about the redistricting process over the past week. She said that there had been fairly equal amounts of support from parents for both Plan A and Plan B — but that many parents stressed that they just wanted the board to make a decision. Others, however, told officials they believed postponing the decision until the district had more time to vet both proposals was the right move.

Asked by board member Deb Zila what impact tabling a decision on which plan to approve would have for the coming school years, Hubbard said that it would leave the issues that prompted the realignment process in the first place — overcrowding in some buildings, unused space in others — unaddressed.

“Tabling doesn’t make it go away,” Hubbard told the board of the potential of postponing the decision.”Tabling it keeps us overcrowded in both Benninghoven and Rising Star. That would leave McAuliffe and Mill Creek underutilized. And it does not create a boundary for the Lenexa Hills new elementary school…Tabling it does not allow any family to have a transition year if they wanted to move for 17-18.”

SM West area representative Craig Denny made the motion to approve the original realignment plan presented to the board in early spring, noting that it was the results of months of careful consideration by district staff, and that the new plan based on Mach’s recommendations had only been available for public review for a matter of days. The Plan B proposals had also drawn criticism from the ACLU of Kansas, which said they would lead to further racial segregation at Rising Star.

In comments ahead of the vote, Mach pointed out that, under the Kansas Open Meetings Act, the board’s May 22 meeting had been her first opportunity to publicly voice concerns with the initial plan.

“I think as a member of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education that you have a duty to dissent, especially when you disagree, no matter at what point in the consideration,” Mach said. “Neither one of these alternatives is perfect. It’s not going to be perfect. Not everyone is going to be happy. But my initial thought…on Plan A remains…I think Plan B, although not perfect, is still the better plan.”

Mach and Brad Stratton both voted against the motion to approve Plan A.

The district will be sending information about next steps for families affected by the boundary changes by the middle of next week.