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Shawnee Mission Superintendent Pans Legislative Efforts

Jim Hinson questions need for detailed financial reports

Hinson, Douglass, and Southwick Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Jim Hinson, center, spoke to reporters Thursday. Flanking Hinson were district security chief, John Douglass, left, and Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Southwick. (Photo: Mike Sherry | Flatland)
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The superintendent of the Shawnee Mission School District is taking umbrage at some of the financial inquiries coming from Kansas lawmakers and from an outside audit firm hired by the Legislature to study the efficiency of state government.

Jim Hinson was particularly insulted that the Legislature’s Special Committee on K-12 Student Success, which is looking to revamp the state’s school funding formula, was even delving into how much each district in the state pays its athletic coaches.

“I really find that request offensive,” Hinson said Thursday during a roundtable discussion with reporters. “If you really broke down what our coaches are paid by the hour, these are not highly paid individuals that are spending a tremendous amount of time with kids.”

The committee has posted that information online.

Hinson said spending reviews and audits can be helpful for any large organization, but he wondered about the motives behind some of the recent financial inquiries – which he said are causing a time burden for business and finance staff.

For instance, Hinson said the efficiency auditors seem to be heading toward recommending some sort of consolidated health insurance plan for all the districts in the state.

“The state has an insurance plan now that districts can buy into,” he said, “which is far more expensive than what we currently pay.”

Rebuttal

House Appropriations Chair Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, was active in pushing for the audit and also serves on the student success committee.

In general, he said, both the committee and the auditors need the data they have requested so they can make informed decisions.

Ryckman acknowledged the burden that the information requests can place on district leadership and staff.

“A superintendent has a wide range of responsibilities in a day, and adding to that can’t always be pleasant,” he said, “but like most things, hopefully a little bit of pain, a little bit of inconvenience, can be well worth it at the end.”

Along with the audit and the special committee, the future of Kansas school funding is also clouded by two pending lawsuits.

One is challenging whether the state is meeting its constitutional requirement to adequately fund education, and the other is questioning a state practice that limits the amount of funding a district can raise from local property owners.

The fundamental question at stake, Hinson said, is this: “If you are going to increase funding for public education, where does that money come from?”

With nearly 28,000 students, Shawnee Mission is the third largest district in Kansas.

Joining Hinson were Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Southwick and the district’s director of safety and security, John Douglass, who is the former police chief in Overland Park.

Other topics covered included:

  • Middle school: Hinson said a task force will begin meeting in January, 2016 to start evaluating the district’s middle school structure, which now includes only the seventh and eighth grades. Should the district ultimately decide to make sixth grade part of middle school, he said, that would produce a domino effect impacting the district facilities requirement and attendance boundaries. The shift would involve about 2,000 students.
  • Construction: Southwick said the district is making progress on a number of projects financed by the $223 million bond issue that district voters approved in January. That work includes progress on four of the five elementary schools promised to voters and a search for property for a fifth elementary to feed into Shawnee Mission West High School. Southwick also said discussions are going well with the city of Lenexa regarding construction of a new district aquatic center near the Lenexa City Center at 87th Street Parkway and Penrose Lane.
  • Signature program: Douglass outlined plans to initiate a high school curriculum designed to prepare students for careers as fire fighters or police officers. The expectation is to have the program ready for the 2016-17 school year.
  • Tax-increment financing (TIF): Hinson said staff members expect to bring to the school board in January recommendations on how the district should evaluate TIF plans. TIFs are economic development incentives sometimes offered by cities, which allow developers to retain some of the increased tax dollars produced by their project. School districts have a say in the process because TIF redirects tax proceeds that would have gone to the district.

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