KC charter school closes, leaving parents scrambling to find another option

Weeks before school resumes, one of Kansas City’s oldest charter schools has closed, and it’s unclear where those students will enroll.

For years, Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology struggled to meet state performance expectations. As a result, last October its sponsor, the University of Central Missouri, severed ties with the charter. Its contract expired June 30.

Now the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says the school was unable to find a replacement sponsor and therefore is closed.

Several Banneker parents have been calling the state education department asking for student records so they can transfer their child to another school, spokesman Tyler Madson said on Monday.

Those records should be available at Banneker, he said. However, the only staff there on Monday were two office employees, who referred to Banneker’s situation as being “in renewal.”

Madson said that as far as the state is concerned the school is closed. “That is the way we see it,” Madson said.

Banneker’s superintendent Marian Brown did not return repeated requests for comment on Monday.

“I am telling parents or anyone else who calls that absent a court order, Benjamin Banneker is no longer open,” said Doug Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association. “We will help parents find another — and better — option for their children. The sooner they start exploring their options, the more options they will have.”

Stephonne Jones of Kansas City says her son had been a Banneker student since preschool and he was doing well there. He is going into the seventh grade and would have had two years left before going elsewhere to high school.

After hearing that Banneker had lost its sponsor, in May she enrolled him at Hogan Preparatory Academy for the coming school year.

“When I didn’t get any new-student information from Hogan and I knew school was going to start in two weeks I called to see what was going on,” Jones said on Monday. She said Hogan school officials said her son had not been enrolled because Hogan never received his school transcripts from Banneker.

“If I hadn’t called them I don’t know what we would have done,” Jones said.

Missouri public schools are measured each year on a list of criteria including how students score on state standardized tests, daily attendance and graduation rates. Overall scores determine whether the state considers a school or district accredited, provisionally accredited or not accredited at all.

State records show that Banneker’s overall score was at 71 percent in 2014, dropped to a provisional accreditation level of 60 percent in 2015, and dropped again in 2016 to 46.9 percent.

In 2017 just 22 percent of Banneker’s students were at or above grade level in English language arts; 12 percent were at or above grade level in math.

When UCM decided to end its sponsorship, Robert Lee, dean of the College of Education at UCM, said that “despite sincere efforts to serve high-need students, Benjamin Banneker has not been able to meet the academic criteria that Missouri statutes have established for public charter schools as well as UCM guidelines.”

At the same time, the UCM Board of Governors voted to continue sponsoring two other Kansas City charters — Scuola Vita Nuova and Gordon Parks Elementary — which also had charter contracts up for renewal in October. All eight charters UCM still sponsors in the Kansas City Public School boundaries are accredited or provisionally accredited and showing signs of improving.

Banneker, at 6401 Rockhill Road, opened 18 years ago. At the time UCM pulled its sponsorship, the school was serving 320 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

UCM had planned to work with the school as it closed, helping parents find other public schools in Kansas City and distributing school furnishings, equipment and supplies that had been purchased with state or federal dollars to other schools in Kansas City.

But in March Banneker filed an injunction in Cole County Circuit Court to stop the closure.

“That meant that we had to desist all closure procedures,” said Vickie Hughes, who oversees the charter school offices for UCM. When the contract with Banneker expired June 30, UCM lost the authority to help the charter navigate the closing process.

Parents told The Star on Monday that after the October announcement about Banneker losing its sponsorship, the school hosted several enrollment fairs to introduce students and families to other schools they might want to attend in the area. Neither the state nor UCM knew how many of those students found another school to attend or what student records had been transferred.

Parents can get help by calling the Missouri Charter Public School Association enrollment hotline at 1-844-458-7573.