MARY SANCHEZ

This is a pivotal moment for the Kansas City school district

Updated: 2013-07-16T23:15:22Z

By MARY SANCHEZ

The Kansas City Star

Finally, Kansas City might be heading toward an education system that is heavily driven and supported by broad segments of the community.

That might seem counterintuitive given the intense interest last week from the state level toward Kansas City’s educational challenges. But consider that in each example, state officials were either adding weight to the wishes of some local leaders or offering encouragement for citizen engagement.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation that shaves about a year off of the time left before a possible state takeover for the unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools.

Technically, the new law allows for that to happen as soon as the beginning of next school year. It won’t.

State officials seem far more intent first on pressing for a wide range of ideas and initiatives from the Kansas City area, in addition to consultant efforts to help schools statewide.

It will be a race in a way –– to see if the district can make good on its contention that test scores and other measures of improvement can become a reality before the state moves to intervene.

State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro should be held to her words: “We will be listening to folks, trying to get opinions,” she told The Star. “It’s going to be an exciting time, and we look forward to working with the Kansas City community.”

Also on Friday, Nixon signed a law that reduces the number of school board members for the district and aligns their election with municipal ones. The idea is to spark heavier turnout by voters and draw more candidates for a more competitive ballot.

In addition, fewer seats can be viewed as reflecting enrollment numbers that have dwindled over the decades. Going to seven from nine board members doesn’t have to lessen the cohesiveness and improved working relationships that the current board has managed to build. Nor does it necessarily mean less representation. Two seats are at-large and five in-district.

Thursday, Nixon was in town helping press the necessity for universal pre-kindergarten.

It’s an incredibly expensive option that officials wish to stretch beyond the boundaries of the Kansas City district. Foundation money will be needed, and far more buy-in from the general public to the wisdom of such efforts.

But like anything that is done on behalf of educating children, few investments could pay off so well for Kansas City’s future.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com.

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