Steve Rose

August 3, 2013

To improve education, abolish the Kansas City school district

Dismantling the Kansas City school district and merging it with nearby districts is the right thing to do for the students and for the community at large. With a bold move, Kansas City schools disappear, and with them goes a horrible reputation that plagues the city.

The Kansas City Public Schools needs to be put out of its misery. It should be dismantled and merged with nearby districts.

You would think, based on bad publicity that surrounds the district and the attention it receives from the public at large, that the district is huge, even “too big to fail.”

Quite the contrary.

If we were talking about 100,000 or more students, as is common in major metropolitan cities across the country, that would be one thing. But there are only just more than 15,000 students, a slightly smaller district than Lee’s Summit.

The district lost its accreditation on Jan.1, 2012. Before that, it was on provisional accreditation.

It is possible that if test scores come in favorably in late August, the district might once again return to provisional accreditation. Of course, it could return to unaccredited, if scores drop again.

Under a new Missouri law, the Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro has the right to intervene in the Kansas City district, effective Aug. 28. What she will do with this authority is anybody’s guess. Nothing would happen until the 2014-2015 school year.

She has several options. She could, as one example, strip the school board of all authority and inject direct state oversight. She may consider lots of different plans.

But recommending that the State Board of Education abolish and merge the district is the best of her options. It removes all the well-intentioned bureaucratic interference.

Neighboring districts like Center or Raytown are not likely to be crazy about this idea and would need to approve any merger. After all, the 15,000 students who remain are those who did not transfer, move, enroll in a charter school, or tried another way to get the heck out of the imploding district. Instead, they would be involuntarily moved to other districts, and they may not be highly motivated to take that step.

But merging is the right thing to do for the students and for the community at large.

That assumes the money spent on Kansas City students follows them to neighboring districts, including transportation from the urban core to outlying districts.

The money saved by the merger, from the $250,000 a year paid to Superintendent Stephen Green to the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to redundant administrators, to the savings of some teacher salaries, should make the transfer of funds and providing transportation very doable. With those transferred funds, neighboring districts would be able to hire more teachers, thus keeping classroom sizes under control.

With a bold move, Kansas City schools disappear, and with them goes a horrible reputation that plagues the city.

More important, it gives the Kansas City students a chance of progress. Neighboring districts have proved they can do the job, even with great challenges.

We already have seen how the transfer of thousands of Kansas City students to Independence has worked out surprisingly well. There is no reason that could not work again.

Center School District, for example, which lies in the southern part of the city, has demographics not all that different from Kansas City Public Schools. Yet, the district functions very well. Surely, that district could absorb a few thousand of the students and give them an opportunity to succeed.

In some ways, this may seem like a radical plan, but it is, in fact, the simplest to implement.

It would erase a district plagued by a revolving door of superintendents and school board members who are elected without competition in some cases, and sometimes no one files. Election turnouts are pitiful.

And it provides an immediate proven structure in nearby districts which have demonstrated success.

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