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Signing of bill quickens possible state takeover of Kansas City schools

Updated: 2013-07-12T20:56:13Z

By JOE ROBERTSON

The Kansas City Star

Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, who has long been eager to speed up the state’s intervention in Kansas City Public Schools, got her wish Friday.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill that will give the state the chance to begin a possible takeover once the law takes effect Aug. 28.

There will be community meetings, Nicastro said. The state is taking bids from agencies to create a statewide plan for helping struggling school districts. And she expects to have a plan for Kansas City in place by January 2014.

“We will be listening to folks, trying to get opinions,” Nicastro said. “It’s going to be an exciting time, and we look forward to working with the Kansas City community.”

The current law gave districts two full years to rebound once they became unaccredited. Kansas City, which was unaccredited in January 2012, would have had until June 2014 before the state would have had to step in if the district was still unaccredited.

Nicastro had pushed for the new law during the 2012 legislative session, only to see it fail when lawmakers pushing other education issues tried to attach amendments to the bill.

The delay means the state — whatever it decides to do — will be only slightly ahead of the its original schedule for intervention. The state would not want to make any changes during the 2013-2014 school year that would disrupt classrooms, Nicastro said.

The district will also receive another round of performance test results next month before the law takes effect, which Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green said will show significant improvement.

“I hope that any plan recognizes what we’ve accomplished so far and seeks to assist and support us … not punish,” Green said. “We’ve stayed focused. We’ve stayed on course. I believe we will make a strong case for a change in classification (to provisional accreditation).”

Letting the district continue under its current structure would be an option. The new law signed by the governor not only removes the waiting period for state intervention but expands the menu of options for governing unaccredited school districts.

The State Board of Education now will be allowed to prescribe conditions under which the existing local school board can remain in place, establish a special administrative board, merge the schools with neighboring ones, split the district into several new schools or design an alternative.

However, there will be a time limit for a local school board to improve if it is permitted to remain. State education officials will be required to select a different approach if the district has not regained accreditation after three academic years or if the State Board of Education determines after two years that academic progress is not on track toward earning accreditation in the next year.

If Kansas City does show marked improvement, Nicastro said, that will be taken into account.

“Whatever happens in Kansas City depends on performance,” she said. “That’s how we drive our decisions. I know they are optimistic.”

Two other districts are also unaccredited — the Normandy School District and the Riverview Gardens School District, both in St. Louis County.

The state has issued a request for proposals for agencies to offer plans to help create a statewide plan for working with underperforming school districts. Those bids are due July 26.

“We want a systemic way to look at fundamental issues,” Nicastro said, “(and develop) a broad solution to intervene appropriately.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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