“It would be highly inappropriate at this time to recommend closings. That is not on the radar.” That was Shawnee Mission School Superintendent Jim Hinson’s message to the board this week in unveiling a 460-page demographic report on the district.
The report, however, outlined four scenarios for the future in its key findings, all of which involved closing schools. And the first scenario suggested closing Westwood View along with Diemer and East Antioch. Dr. Hinson had stated earlier this year that the chance of Westwood View closing were “slim to none.” Westwood View has been listed on several suggested closing lists over recent years. Santa Fe Trail and Tomahawk also are listed for closing in various scenarios from the study.
The report suggests that some schools, such as Highlands, have considerable capacity to absorb more students. Other schools, including Briarwood, are currently overcrowded. The report called the growth at Briarwood “very dramatic.”
An issue that the report does not address in its capacity assessments, Hinson told the board, is special programs. It uses a standard of square feet per student, but special programs located at various schools take up classroom space.
Another consideration not assessed by the report is re-greening, he said. Which neighborhoods are likely to start seeing housing turnover and younger families coming in also is not factored in and hard to predict, Hinson said. Overall, the report predicts that enrollment in the district could stay relatively flat over the next 10 years or in its most optimistic scenario gain about 200 students per year.
Kindergarten enrollment in the district is up 300 since 2005. If that increase continues, then it is a solid predictor, Hinson said. What to do about the overcrowded schools is an immediate issue and Hinson said that over the next couple of months the district will need to decide if it needs to “tweak” attendance boundaries at the elementary level. “Nobody wants to do that,” Hinson said, noting that you can relieve overcrowding, but may affect feeder patterns.
“I think we have to get over feeder patterns,” board member Donna Bysfield said. “We are all one district.”
Shawnee Mission hit a peak of 45,702 students in 1970. It had 31,884 students in 1995 during an uptick and today stands at 27,418. The high-end projection in the demographer’s report is for 28,639 students in 2023.