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Missouri lawmakers ponder budget impact of transfers on KC schools

01/15/2014 1:35 PM

01/15/2014 1:36 PM

A gloomy picture was painted for state lawmakers Wednesday of the possible future for Kansas City Public Schools if the district is forced to abide by a controversial student transfer law.

The House Budget Committee heard testimony from state education leaders on the financial strain of a law that permits students in unaccredited school districts to enroll in accredited districts, with tuition and transportation provided by the failing districts.

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro told the committee that the unaccredited Normandy School District near St. Louis would need $6.8 million in additional funding this year to keep it from going bankrupt by March. This despite the fact that the district has already laid off 100 teachers, closed an elementary school and increased class sizes since students began transferring to neighboring districts last summer.

“Normandy will be bankrupt before the end of this school year, and their students will all have to be reassigned to other districts,” Nicastro told the committee, adding that the state’s two other uncredited districts -- Kansas City and Riverview Gardens -- would follow them into bankruptcy at some point in the future.

“If left unchanged, the current system is financially unsustainable,” she said.

Kansas City Public Schools have been unaccredited since January 2012, although the district has thus far not had to abide by the transfer law while a series of legal challenges play out in court.

Lawmakers have

proposed several changes to the law to try to address concerns, and Senate leadership has called the issue its top priority. Additionally, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working on a plan of its own

to deal with unaccredited districts.

Rep. Jeff Grisamore, a Lee’s Summit Republican, predicted a higher volume of students could ultimately transfer from the Kansas City district. That’s because unlike the St. Louis area schools that are unaccredited, he said, the districts surrounding Kansas City are performing at a high level.

Several lawmakers questioned why a district that loses a percentage of its students couldn’t simply cut that same percentage of its costs. Ron Lankford, deputy commissioner of education, said it’s not that simple.

“The electricity cost is the same, your fixed cost of operation is the same and your debt service and facilities costs don’t go down any,” Lankford said. “And you don’t want to take three classes that were 22 students apiece and make two that are 35. You can’t do proportional cuts based on a decrease in revenue.”

That’s especially true, Lankford said, in a district that is trying to improve student achievement.

The budget committee will decide later this year whether to include the $6.8 million request for Normandy in the state’s supplemental budget.

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