The Stowers Foundation has pledged to cover $2 million in start-up costs if Academie Lafayette and the Kansas City Public Schools can agree on a partnership at Southwest Early College Campus.
In a letter presented to the charter school’s board Monday night, James Stowers III wrote of the foundation’s “enthusiastic support” for what has become a divisive proposal for the storied school at 6512 Wornall Road.
Three of the foundation’s board members graduated from Southwest High School in the 1970s, the letter said, and “we have been saddened to see the school and facility flounder for the past 40 years…”
A joint proposal by the school district administration and the charter school — currently on hold — would give control of Southwest to Academie Lafayette to open an International Baccalaureate high school. The school would serve graduates from the charter’s French immersion K-8 program and at least an equal number of students from the Kansas City district.
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Stowers, in his letter, noted not only his support but also the support from a team of civic leaders — attorney Herb Hardwick; former president of DST and the Kauffman Foundation, Tom McDonnell; and former dean of the Bloch business school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Bill Eddy.
Commitments of support also have been made, Stowers said, by businessmen Henry and Tom Bloch and Paul DeBruce and James Nutter, bringing an initial total of $3.3 million and up to $15 million longer term.
The charter school is looking at several options now in its quest to open a high school, charter board Vice President Marvin Lyman said Tuesday. The pledge of civic support for Southwest still relies on the charter and district being able to navigate several difficult issues in the community.
“The ball is still in the district’s court,” Lyman said.
Several community groups, including the Urban Summit, the NAACP and the Metropolitan Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, have opposed the partnership.
The community groups worried about the displacement of some 400 students currently at Southwest. They raised concerns that Academie Lafayette, with an enrollment that is more than 60 percent white, does not reflect the district’s majority-minority diversity.
The groups also worry that a Southwest partnership would jeopardize the health of the district’s existing International Baccalaureate program at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy.
The Rev. Rodney Williams of Swope Parkway United Christian Church, speaking for several ministerial groups last month, described the partnership as an “insidious” step toward “resegregation.”
Stowers’ letter re-emphasizes some of the significant civic leadership that is supporting the plan.
Both the district and the charter’s school boards have been working through divisions within their own ranks, board members said, as they sort through the wishes and concerns of the community.
Although the partnership is on hold, it could still return depending on the district’s planning process and community input, Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green said.
“This may give us some fuel to go forward,” he said.
The charter school, Academie Lafayette board member Mike Zeller said, is seeking more diversity by pursuing a partnership with the school district.
The financial support would not only help with the programming of the school, he said, but would fund upgrades in the building, which would still be owned by the school district.
“I read that as a vote of confidence in KCPS, Academie Lafayette and in our city’s future,” he said.
Stowers noted the community divisions in his letter to the Academie Lafayette board.
“We understand that there are forces in our community who are reluctant to reach across hardened lines and who advocate for the preservation of the status quo,” he wrote.
The school district and the charter school announced March 15 that they were suspending negotiations.
The district is engaged in a master-planning process with the community exploring changes in facilities to help improve achievement, increase enrollment and be more cost-efficient.
Closing Southwest is one of the possibilities under consideration if there is not a partnership with the charter school. The administration is still meeting with the community and has not yet made recommendations to its board.
The commitment for funding for the charter school at Southwest shows there is support for both the district and charter schools, Kansas City board President Jon Hile said.
For now, the district is committed to carrying on with its master plan process, he said.
“We will be deliberate getting through the master planning,” Hile said. “We will take time to get things right.”