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KC superintendent says denial of accreditation must not derail progress

Updated: 2013-10-23T04:56:47Z

By JASON HANCOCK

The Star’s Jefferson City correspondent

— Kansas City Public Schools will remain unaccredited for at least another year.

That puts the district a step closer to being forced to comply with a controversial student transfer law many fear could be financially devastating.

The Missouri Board of Education on Tuesday opted not to take action on a request from Kansas City school leaders to grant the district provisional accreditation. The district nearly scored in the provisionally accredited range last year and hit the mark in the most recent school performance report this year.

Even with those gains, however, seven out of every 10 of the district’s students still did not score proficient or advanced in math and reading.

“They made progress, but they still didn’t get off the floor,” said Peter Herschend, president of the State Board of Education.

Margie Vandeven, deputy education commissioner, said the state wants to see at least three years of progress before Kansas City is granted provisional status. One year of scores at the provisional level is not enough.

“With what we have now,” she said, “we can’t predict that this is a sustainable trend.”

Superintendents of local districts, their school boards and several lawmakers had hoped the board would reward Kansas City for its recent progress in order to avoid compliance with a 1993 law allowing families in unaccredited school districts to enroll in accredited districts.

Raytown Superintendent Allan Markley said Tuesday he was saddened to hear that the Kansas City district’s improvement “has gone unheard” by the State Board of Education and education commissioner.

“They worked really hard, and we support them because all of us could be in the same boat some day,” Markley said.

Independence Superintendent Dale Herl also was disappointed.

“It’s unfortunate they’re not given credit for the gains they’ve made,” Herl said.

The law mandates that tuition and transportation costs be paid by the failing districts, and that receiving districts cannot turn any new students away.

For years, public school leaders have warned legislators that the transfer law could result in overcrowded suburban classrooms and bankrupt urban schools.

This summer, after the state Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional, their fears became a reality.

More than 2,600 students transferred out of two unaccredited school districts in the St. Louis area — Normandy and Riverview Gardens. Normandy officials have said they’ll need an additional $6.8 million in state funds to avoid going bankrupt before the end of the school year. Riverview Gardens could run out of money next year.

So far, the transfer law has not been implemented in Kansas City, with schools waiting on a separate ruling from the state Supreme Court. The court heard arguments in the case earlier this month, with a ruling expected later this year or early next year.

Markley said the Raytown district would expect to receive some student transfers and is looking at its capacity.

“At the end of the day, we’ll follow the law,” he said, adding that he hoped the state legislature would revise the statute to give it more clarity.

Herl declined to comment on the transfer issue pending the Supreme Court ruling.

In Normandy and Riverview Gardens, roughly one-fourth of students sought a transfer.

Gayden Carruth, executive director of the Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City, told The Star last week that if that scenario held true for the 32,000 school-aged children living in the Kansas City district, costs to cover transfers could run as high as $120 million of the district’s $238 million budget.

Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green said the district can’t let the board’s decision or the potential consequences derail the progress the district is making.

“We need to keep going full throttle, together, to deliver a third consecutive year of improvement, regardless of the politics swirling in our periphery,” Green said in a prepared statement. “A number of challenges await us as we continue another successful school year, and we will rise as a community to meet those challenges.”

Paul Ziegler, president of Missouri Association of School Administrators, warned that the Board of Education’s decision could “pull the financial rug” out from under the district just when it is starting to show improvement.

“The Kansas City school district deserves the opportunity to continue the improvement efforts they have made without spending needless dollars on transportation and tuition expenses that will ultimately lead to the district’s demise and inability to serve its students,” Ziegler said.

State Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat, called the board’s decision “unfortunate,” especially in light of legislation passed earlier this year allowing the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to immediately intervene in a district when it loses accreditation.

Previously, the state had to wait two years before taking action. With the new law in place, Holsman said, there’s no good reason for keeping Kansas City unaccredited.

“If there is a slide in performance next year, there’s no longer a waiting period,” said Holsman, a former teacher in the Kansas City school district. “The state can take immediate action, so there’s no risk to rewarding the district for the progress it has made.”

The Star’s Matt Campbell contributed to this report. To reach Jason Hancock, call 573-634-3565 or send email to jhancock@kcstar.com.

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