With local legislators in audience, Shawnee Mission admin warns of ‘devastating’ losses if K-12 bill isn’t fixed

District CFO Russell Knapp (at podium) and Assistant Superintendent Rick Atha laid out the financial realities Shawnee Mission will face if the legislature does not pass a fix to the K-12 funding bill.

With 10 Shawnee Mission area elected officials in the audience, district leaders told the board of education at its meeting Monday that if the legislature doesn’t make changes to the K-12 funding bill when it returns to the statehouse Thursday, schools here will face a “devastating” loss of funds.

Without a trailer bill to change the way both state aid and local option budget funds are calculated, Shawnee Mission would see a year-over-year loss of $2,056,320 in money available for allocation in the 2018-19 budget, Assistant Superintendent Rick Atha told the board. No other district in the state is facing as drastic a loss.

Atha said the incongruities of the state injecting hundreds of millions of dollars of new money into the system while Shawnee Mission faces a reduction in funding left him at a loss.

“Folks, I don’t know how to explain this to our Shawnee Mission School District patrons,” Atha said. “The legislators are appropriating over $500 million over the next five years, and in the first year, if this stands, we will lose $2 million.”

But the path to the passage of the bill that would restore the funding Shawnee Mission anticipated receiving next year — a level that would represent a year-over-year increase of more than $4 million instead of a loss of $2 million — is murky.

District lobbyist Stuart Little noted that the K-12 bill passed ahead of the end of the regular session had a minimum number of votes in both the House and the Senate, and that it represented an odd mix of Democrats, conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans. Some of the proposed changes that would make Shawnee Mission whole – like the removal of the Aurand amendment that attempts to recast how LOB money would be considered by the Supreme Court — would likely drive away some of the legislators that originally voted for the bill.

“The bill in the House had some conservatives that voted for it because of some of the things that were in the amendment,” Little said. “If we’re going to go back and fix that, are we going to lose votes?”

The prospect of lost funds poses a challenge for the district’s financial staff as they look to create a budget for the coming year. Chief Financial Officer Russell Knapp detailed a number of budget items the administration was considering for next year, noting that they were looking at additional costs of $4.5 million to account for step-and-column advancement next year in conjunction with a 1 percent base pay increase for all pay groups.

Additionally, the costs of hiring the staff needed to place a social worker and counselor at every elementary school, increase the number of counselors at every high school, and reduce high school teachers’ schedules from six classes to five each day would total another $7 million-plus.

Board member Patty Mach noted that the prospect of lost funds was troubling because the addition of personnel the district is hoping to move forward with represented a restoration of staffing that had been cut as school funding shrank last decade.

“We used to have counselors at every elementary school. We used to have three counselors at every high school. And we used to have high school teachers’ schedules so they only taught five classes. So when I’m looking at those numbers, we’re still playing catch up, in a lot of ways aren’t we?” Mach asked Knapp.

“Yeah, we’re trying to restore some of the cuts we made almost probably 10 to 15 years ago,” Knapp responded.

Legislators Barbara Bollier, Stephanie Clayton, Tom Cox, Jan Kessigner, Nancy Lusk, Jarrod Ousley, Brett Parker, Melissa Rooker and Jerry Stogsdill attended the meeting.