St. Louis Public Schools regained provisional accreditation Tuesday, but what that means for the future of Kansas City’s unaccredited district depends on how the political winds blow.
Perhaps Kansas City’s elected school board can take heart.
Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro stepped up her timetable, recommending that the state school board shed St. Louis’ unaccredited status after just two years of achieving enough standards to score at a provisionally accredited level on the state’s annual performance reports.
She had said in August she wanted to see three years of sustained growth.
The flexibility is encouraging to Kansas City as it hopes to regain enough standards to score at a provisional level by next August.
But St. Louis’ success could just as well further threaten the future of Kansas City’s elected board.
St. Louis has been governed by an appointed special administrative board that replaced the elected school board in 2007.
Current state law does not allow the state to intervene in Kansas City until after two school years once the district became unaccredited Jan. 1 — a limitation that Nicastro has urged legislators to remove.
A local elected board is preferable, Nicastro said in a statement Tuesday, but “one of the lessons of the St. Louis Public School intervention is that an appointed board, working in conjunction with an effective administrative team, can make a difference.”
“The importance of governance in supporting systemic change has been affirmed.”
Nicastro, who asked the Kansas City board to consider voluntarily stepping down before its unaccredited status took effect Jan. 1, later cautioned against comparing the two districts’ circumstances.
There’s no one-size solution to unaccredited schools, Nicastro said through a spokesman. However, the commissioner added, St. Louis’ improvement shows that stable leadership and good governance can bring change.
Anxiety over Kansas City’s leadership will ease if the district makes the kind of growth its administration is forecasting, Kansas City school board President Airick Leonard West said.
“The only thing that matters is scholar achievement,” he said. “If our scholars are served, accreditation will naturally follow (and) the community will maintain its ability for local control.”
Under the current state grading system, Kansas City achieved five of 14 standards, up from three a year ago. The district has projected it could add two more standards or more next year.
A district must meet at least six standards to be considered for provisional accreditation, and nine for full accreditation.
St. Louis reached six standards in 2011, then rose to seven in 2012, prompting its administrative board to request that the commissioner recommend restoring it to provisional accreditation.
The state board voted unanimously to enact the commissioner’s request.
The commissioner, however, warned that celebration for St. Louis should be “brief and realistic,” noting that “the path ahead is just as difficult as the path thus far.”
The goal remains full accreditation. The state is moving to a steeper process for accreditation next year that may be particularly hard on districts like Kansas City and St. Louis that have struggled to meet the current standards.
St. Louis’ new accreditation takes it out of another hotbed of trouble — the state’s transfer law.
Separate lawsuits out of St. Louis and Kansas City are challenging a state law that would give children living in unaccredited school district boundaries the ability to attend schools in neighboring districts, with tuition and transportation costs to be absorbed by the unaccredited districts.
No districts on either side of the state have been making transfers while the cases are pending. Appeals are under way before the state Supreme Court in the St. Louis case, with appeals due later this month in the Kansas City case, said Duane Martin, attorney for some of the districts that neighbor Kansas City.
While the future of the St. Louis case is unclear, Martin said, “This has the potential to shift the focus to Kansas City.”