Friday is an important self-imposed deadline for Uniting at Southwest, a community effort that for several years now has set its sights on reopening the former Southwest High School.
The group is finalizing a proposal to the Kansas City school district, which owns the shuttered building — a space that needs millions of dollars in upgrades, much of it due to deferred maintenance.
Uniting at Southwest envisions an academically rigorous high school for children living near the building at 6512 Wornall Road. Many of those kids now attend some of the city’s stronger charter schools, and their parents want a public high school nearby.
The parents have reached this point because in late January, the school district provided them a pathway. The board of education laid out a process for collaborating with such groups.
This is a first step, submitting a letter of interest from the Southwest group. But no agreements have been made.
But this truce of sorts was also a welcome reprieve from what at times has been a contentious battle over differing visions for the Southwest building and competing ideas about charter schools in general. The school district has slotted Southwest to become a middle school in its master plan.
Clearly, community members and district leadership are working to determine what’s best for children within the district’s boundaries.
So, it’s puzzling that legislation has been introduced in Jefferson City to create “innovation schools,” another collaborative effort employed in other cities that sounds a whole lot like what Uniting at Southwest is pursuing with the district.
State Sen. Jason Holsman, whose district includes Southwest, introduced the innovation schools measure. He attached it to an existing bill creating a voucher program, a way to funnel taxpayer dollars into private schools. Holsman says he opposes vouchers, and those vouchers alone should make the bill a non-starter.
Holsman says he merely wants to create another tool for the Kansas City school district, one that it can utilize or ignore.
Superintendent Mark Bedell is firm in his opposition to Holsman’s amendment and the entire Senate Bill 612.
And Phyllis Williams, part of the executive committee for Uniting at Southwest, said, “We can’t support anything that KCPS doesn’t.”
That should settle it. Decisions about the future of Kansas City school district buildings need to be made by the board — not by state legislators. And district officials are doing the right thing, working alongside community leaders.
Meddling, however well-intentioned, shouldn’t be orchestrated from Jefferson City.