Its been 46 years since Jim Spainhower pioneered the punching-bag role of point man in selling a plan to remake the Kansas City school district.
By JOE ROBERTSON
The Kansas City Star
The 85-year-old retired politician and educator was 40 then, a state representative from Saline County not really aware of what he was getting himself into.
He championed an idea contemplating what to do about growing inequity and friction among urban, suburban and rural school systems.
Just join together was the idea. Consolidate across the boundaries that were pitting schools against schools.
It was actually a statewide proposal, but nowhere were anger and resistance as powerful as in the Kansas City area, Spainhower recalled.
That was 1968. We still have racial turmoil now, he said, but we were really in it in those days.
His Spainhower Commission would develop a consolidation bill, but he couldnt get the measure out of the Senate Education Committee and he was the committee chair.
A dozen years later, when he was trying to run for governor, he remembers trying to talk to people in Raytown, and they only wanted to talk about his long-dead school plan, beginning usually by cussing me out.
The Spainhower plan was toxic, said University of Kansas professor John Rury. School boards and their state representatives fought it tooth and nail. No one would touch it with a 10-foot pole.
Then came Arthur Benson, as the plaintiffs attorney in Kansas Citys historic desegregation litigation.
The civil rights attorney was in his 30s then, and a battery of idealists had the force of the judicial branch behind them.
The district tried what had never been done before creating a school system consisting entirely of magnet schools that would aspire to draw families across dividing lines to join uniquely themed, powerful schools.
The change demanded huge investments of talent and training.
The schools had everything they needed, said Benson, 69. They just lacked the good people to make it happen.
Today we have a proposed historic overhaul on the table to turn the district over to a network of recruited independent school operators.
Spainhower, who lives in Raymore now, warns that selling the remaking of a school system surely will bring a fight.
And Benson warns that the prospect of being able to find any- where near enough nonprofits that could run successful Kansas City urban schools is not good.
But maybe the anger and distrust that marked their fallen quests might at least yield to a better discussion.
Said Spainhower: Id like to think weve made a little progress.