The law seems plain enough to Desiré Hendricks.
Kansas City Public Schools are unaccredited, and Missouri’s transfer law says she can send her 16-year-old son to Center High School in south Kansas City, tuition paid.
But with less than a week until schools open, she doesn’t know where her son will be.
Hers is one of 10 families, representing 17 children, having to wait out the last-moment confusion as Kansas City and four neighboring districts wrestle with board policies, legal action and Kansas City’s full-court press to gain provisional accreditation.
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“Let my son enroll,” Hendricks told The Star on Tuesday. “Your haggling is not in the best interest of my child.”
Everyone is caught in a difficult situation, said Gayden Carruth, executive director of the Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City, which is coordinating the transfer process.
“I feel sorry for the parents,” Carruth said. “And I feel sorry for the school districts. Here we are at the start of the school year in this cloud of uncertainty.”
The Missouri state school board has called for a special meeting at 1 p.m. Wednesday by telephone conference to take up again the question of Kansas City’s accreditation status.
If the board were to grant Kansas City’s request for at least temporary provisional accreditation, then the transfer law would no longer apply in Kansas City.
The Missouri law, which allows students in unaccredited districts to transfer to schools in nearby accredited districts, has caused confusion, particularly in the St. Louis area where some 2,000 children transferred out of the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts.
Just 17 children are lined up to transfer out of Kansas City, with requests to attend schools in either the Center, Independence, North Kansas City or Raytown school districts.
But the process is stumped.
Kansas City still hopes to be designated as a provisionally accredited district, which would remove the transfer option for families.
The district has a lawsuit pending that seeks provisional status. New state performance numbers, which were not complete when the state board met in July, have now been provided to school districts and would be available to the state board.
The performance scores are under review and embargoed from the public until Aug. 29, but Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green thinks the data affirm that the district will score safely in the provisional range for the second year in a row when state report cards are published.
The district has been pressing the state to grant it temporary provisional status until the state board considers an official change in accreditation status.
In the meantime, the tuition policies in Center, Independence, North Kansas City and Raytown conflict with the guidance the state has proposed in funding the transfer of students.
Those districts generally require nonresident students to pay tuition up front, while the state’s education department has recommended that the unaccredited districts be allowed to make month-to-month payments.
Hendricks said that Center has informed her that the district needs its full-year high school tuition rate — $14,800 — in advance from Kansas City.
Center’s policy does allow it to make alternative tuition arrangements that would have to be approved by its school board, Center Superintendent David Leone said.
Nine of the 17 Kansas City transfer requests have been made to Center, he said.
“We are waiting to see what the accreditation status will be for Kansas City Public (Schools),” Leone said. “I know that (Kansas City Superintendent) Steve Green and his staff have worked hard to earn accreditation points…(and) we hope it is resolved.”
Green said that Kansas City is prepared to pay tuition, if the district is still unaccredited at the start of the year, but that it wants to pay on the monthly schedule the state has recommended.
“We want to pay the tuition without overextending ourselves if (the transferring families) should return,” Green said. “We do not want to be in an obstructing position with the families that want to transfer.”
Hendricks wants the districts to let her son into Center, knowing that it would be for just one year if Kansas City regains accreditation.
Hendricks, a manager at Harvesters, had enrolled her son at Archbishop O’Hara High School, but when the Catholic school’s tuition became too much of a financial strain, she enrolled her son in Kansas City’s Southwest Early College Campus for the 10th grade.
It was a difficult year, she said.
“He does not want to go back,” she said. “He cannot go back to Southwest.”
The parents are “caught in between,” Carruth said, “and so are those five school districts.” That is why she hopes the state will take action to restore Kansas City to provisional.
The receiving school districts, she said, are choosing to adhere to their transfer and tuition policies and not to the state education department’s guidance, which is only guidance and not prescribed by the transfer law.
The proposal for month-to-month payments opens up too much uncertainty, Carruth said. The state, which is now controlling the Normandy School District, is paying a reduced tuition amount to receiving districts in St. Louis, which Carruth said would be “patently unfair to taxpayers” if Kansas City area districts were to collect reduced tuition fees.
“They (the receiving districts) are trying to comply with the law,” she said. “They’re trying to do what is right for their districts.”
The state school board could resolve the situation, Carruth said, if it were to give Kansas City its provisional accreditation and take the transfer law off the table in Kansas City.
But that’s not the resolution Hendricks is looking for. If her bid to place her son in Center fails, she’s not sure what she’ll do, she said.
“I may home-school him.”
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