Joe Robertson | Schools want the same thing, but they are still at odds

08/16/2012 12:00 AM

05/16/2014 7:24 PM

For all the urgency voiced for the sake of Kansas City schoolchildren, this is a maddening slog we’re in, isn’t it?

Spring brought us lawmakers sabotaging each other’s education reform bills.

And here we are mired in the never-ending court season.

When area superintendents explain that they’re striving together for ideas to help all children, they know it’s a complicated message.

It certainly confuses things that the header of the current lawsuit headed for appeal pits the Blue Springs School District et al. against the School District of Kansas City et al.

While Kansas City and its neighboring districts are staking legal positions over conflicting student transfer policies, they are indeed unified at the heart of the case in Jackson County.

They all want to stop the one existing law that, on the face of it, seems to give Kansas City children the ability to quickly change public schools.

The law allows students in unaccredited districts to transfer out. Simple in theory. Complicated and costly in reality.

Why not let them go?

Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro initially urged the superintendents to find a way to take transfers.

She also wanted lawmakers to give the state legal authority to rush in with its own solution, if necessary.

Neither happened, which she said is frustrating for families that believe they need some rapid change.

“Every year that goes by is a year of a child’s education life wasted,” she said.

But she believes that the superintendents are well meaning and concerned about everyone’s children. She understands the deep quandaries they are in.

None of the neighboring districts deals with as much concentrated poverty as Kansas City. Still, Raytown, Grandview and Center have similar pressures and have risen to high marks on the state’s report card.

Some families would seek to transfer. But many wouldn’t. Many like their teachers. Their children would want to stay with their friends.

There would still be schools in Kansas City’s neighborhoods, caving under the costs of maintaining buildings and technology in emptying schools while paying so much more on transportation.

The neighborhood school’s place as a community core would suffer and even collapse.

“There are neighborhood issues,” Center Superintendent Bob Bartman said. “There are regional issues. There are kids-left-behind issues.”

It is probably of little comfort to many that the only available solution right now relies on Kansas City Public Schools.

But if you believe that there are dedicated and talented teachers at work right now in Kansas City classrooms, then there’s hope.

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