Less than a year after he surprised district staff and patrons by announcing his retirement as superintendent, Jim Hinson is now working for the law firm he brought on to handle the majority of the Shawnee Mission School District’s legal affairs.
Hinson is now a school governance consultant with EdCounsel, the firm led by attorney Duane Martin. An Independence School District patron said Hinson has been seen at EdCounsel’s Independence offices — which are housed in the Independence School District’s central office building on Forest Ave. Hinson served as superintendent in Independence for 12 years prior to taking the Shawnee Mission job.
“With increased state and federal government intervention, the distance between strong school leadership and solid school law practice constantly narrows,” Hinson is quoted as saying on his EdCounsel bio page. “Education and legal services cannot continue to exist in silos. An authentic and robust relationship between the two services ultimately benefits students.”
Hinson brought the firm Guin Mundorf LLC on to handle some of the district’s legal affairs the first year he joined Shawnee Mission from Independence back in 2013. Martin had been an attorney with Guin Mundorf until 2014, when he left to launch EdCounsel. Shawnee Mission began using EdCounsel’s services shortly after the firm was founded. EdCounsel’s total billings to Shawnee Mission Schools increased steadily in the coming years. The firm billed Shawnee Mission $10,106 during the 2013-2014 school year. Billings increased to $69,982 in 2014-15; $188,823 in 2015-16; and $405,111 last school year.
Much of EdCounsel’s billings during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years were related to litigation against the school district, including the Rubye Davis case, in which the former SM East biology teacher alleges that she was transferred to SM West because the district wanted more black teachers at that school. That case is still making its way through U.S. District Court. Hinson is a named defendant in that suit.
Central office administrators have said that the choice to switch much of the district’s legal work to EdCounsel was driven primarily by its hourly rate, which is lower than some of the other firms with which the district has worked in recent years.