Just how daunting is the task of reviving negotiations for an Academie Lafayette-run high school at Kansas City Public Schools’ Southwest Early College Campus?
Consider that $2 million in Stowers Foundation money to make it happen is left still sitting on the table.
And when Kansas City Mayor Sly James tried to set up a joint meeting of the charter and district school boards in early May to resume talks, they turned him down.
Not now, were the boards’ replies. Not yet.
While Stowers’ money and the mayor’s prodding may rejuvenate enthusiasm on the charter school’s side, the high-powered overtures only intensified some of the community conflicts weighing over the Kansas City school board.
The black community, in particular, is divided over issues of “fear” and “trust,” said Joe Mattox, a historian and a former member of the Missouri Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Academie Lafayette is a diverse school. But it is majority white and has, by the nature of public charter schools, operated in competition to the majority-black Kansas City Public Schools.
The proposed school at Southwest, 6512 Wornall Road, would open an International Baccalaureate high school with some selective admission features similar to the school district’s flagship, Lincoln College Preparatory Academy at 2111 Woodland Ave.
The school, under the now-suspended negotiations, was to enroll at least as many district students as charter students all mixed in together.
While both Southwest and Lincoln would be racially diverse, many in the black community fear that more white students and an accompanying influence would gravitate toward Southwest, Mattox said.
“Both schools need resources,” he said. “Which is going to come first? Who can be trusted in the white community?”
Bill Eddy is one of several civic leaders James Stowers III named in his letter to the Academie Lafayette school board who he said would be supporting the charter if it could launch its high school at Southwest.
Eddy, the former dean of the Bloch business school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a former Kansas City school board member, said “it has to do with territory and control.”
“There are groups in the community who historically have had a major stake in the Kansas City school district,” he said. “It is concerning to them to take students in a major school out of the normal control of the school district.”
Eddy said he told Stowers he would support a new school.
“Anything we can do to get more Kansas City kids a good education,” he said, “I’m for it.”
The $2 million Stowers pledge, and potential support described from other donors that could bring millions more, increased concerns in the black community of inequitable support between the schools, Mattox said.
“In the black community, we do not have the same financial support,” he said. “It’s the reality. It’s a known factor.”
The funding offer from Stowers recognizes that the charter school would have significant renovation costs and other financial burdens to open that would not be covered by the public funding.
Kansas City school board President Jon Hile said the pledge of support from Stowers and other philanthropic resources is encouraging and would be eagerly received if the proposed school could navigate the many concerns.
“I’m always happy for support of education,” Hile said. “But (the Stowers’ pledge) didn’t change the equation for the issues were working through.”
James’ support of an Academie Lafayette school at Southwest rides on his position the city can support both Southwest and Lincoln.
“The mayor’s drive all along,” James’ spokesman Michael Grimaldi said, “is to talk about ways to improve education opportunities … and create more quality seats for students in Kansas City.”
The mayor invited both boards to send members as well as district administrators to meet to get the proposed partnership moving again, Grimaldi said, “and for whatever reason they weren’t ready.”
Both school boards announced jointly March 15 that they were suspending negotiations on a Southwest plan first unveiled in June 2014, but leaders of both groups say the door remains open to resume discussions.
Academie Lafayette held a parents’ meeting May 4 in which they reaffirmed a consensus that Southwest would be a preferred site for their high school plans, but that they will be exploring other options.
There is no timeline set for high school plans, Academie Lafayette board vice president Marvin Lyman said.
“We’re open to meeting with the mayor when it’s feasible,” he said.
For now, Lyman said, the charter school is focusing on year-end testing and preparations for major trips by the sixth- and eighth-grade classes.
The Kansas City Public Schools’ attention is also diverted, board member Marisol Montero said.
The board’s ad-hoc communication committee is looking to extend more outreach into the community in what she called “healing sessions” where the district just listens.
The board is not saddled so much with issues of race, she said, but concerns about how students would move to different schools in any of many possibilities in the district’s ongoing master planning.
“It’s about equity, not black and white,” she said. “These are healthy discussions that should be going on.”
Meanwhile, prospects for an Academie Lafayette at Southwest remain in a cooling period.
The mayor is standing by, Grimaldi said.
When they are ready to go again, he said, “the mayor is encouraging both sides to use him to help get things done.”