Gov. Jeff Colyer’s signing of an updated version of the K-12 finance bill on Monday ensured that Shawnee Mission will have more funds — not less — to work with as it budgets for the 2018-19 school year.
But the $4.3 million in new state money the district is set to receive is unlikely to allow the district to address many of the desires groups of parents and staff have brought before the board in recent months.
Since February, parents have been lobbying the board to consider the staffing of a full-time counselor at every elementary school. Last month, a group of social workers asked the board to ensure each elementary had a social worker as well.
Those staff additions would help address growing concerns about students’ social and emotional issues manifesting themselves in the classroom, often distracting from instruction and learning, the groups have argued.
How to pay for them, however, will be a major sticking point.
At Monday’s special board of education meeting, interim superintendent Kenny Southwick presented the board with an update on the passage of the “fixed” school finance bill, noting that it reversed the projected $2 million loss that the district had faced under the original. Unfortunately, the $4.3 million in new funds the district will receive won’t go very far in addressing some of the proposed staff additions, Southwick indicated.
Health insurance expenses are expected to rise by $657,000 for next year, and transportation and utility costs are expected to increase nearly $750,000. Add in personnel needed to staff the new Lenexa Hills Elementary and about 27 additional employees recommended for other posts throughout the district — including 10.5 new special education teachers — and the district is already looking at about $4.2 million in increased expenses. That’s essentially all of the new money.
“You’ve heard from social workers. You’ve heard from parents who want counselors. And that’s at the elementary levels but also at the secondary levels,” Southwick told the board Monday. “We’ve had conversations with our secondary staff about going back to teaching five [sections] instead of six [each day]. And all of those things that are out there, quite honestly I would not be against any of those things. But the reality is that if you look at that total, we’re up to about $16 million, which is four times over the new money that you’re going to have.”
Southwick noted that there is a chance that the Supreme Court will rule that additional funds will be required to meet the threshold of constitutionality. If that’s their decision, the board may ultimately have more money to budget.
“We all kind of believe that this is the worst case scenario for us,” Southwick said of the current funding scheme. “I don’t think that the courts are going to come back and say that there was too much put into this.”
Southwick also said the district had set its first negotiating session with the National Education Association – Shawnee Mission for next year’s teachers’ contract for June 26, later than usual. The hope is that the district will have a clearer sense of where the court and the legislature stand on K-12 funding at that point.
A document summarizing the costs of a number of already-budgeted and potential items for the 2018-19 school year is below: