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Kansas City school board is under pressure to kill future negotiations with Academie Lafayette

A group including the Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II shut down a Kansas City school board meeting last week. “We hated that the meeting had to be shut down,” Hartsfield said Wednesday. “(But) if we don’t get a response, unfortunately we’re put right back in the same place. It will be a civic confrontation.” This photo shows Hartsfield at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, where he is the pastor.
A group including the Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II shut down a Kansas City school board meeting last week. “We hated that the meeting had to be shut down,” Hartsfield said Wednesday. “(But) if we don’t get a response, unfortunately we’re put right back in the same place. It will be a civic confrontation.” This photo shows Hartsfield at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, where he is the pastor. Special to The Star

With one school board meeting shut down and threats leveled to disrupt the next one, opponents of a partnership with the Academie Lafayette charter school are determined to force the Kansas City school board’s hand.

“We hated that the meeting had to be shut down,” the Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II told The Star on Wednesday. “(But) if we don’t get a response, unfortunately we’re put right back in the same place. It will be a civic confrontation.”

The proposal from a year ago to give the charter school control of the district’s Southwest Early College Campus had already proven controversial.

Both the district’s and the charter’s boards announced in March that they were suspending discussions on what was planned to be a charter-run International Baccalaureate high school for both charter and district students.

Southwest was not on the Kansas City board’s agenda when it met May 27, nor is it on the agenda — at least at the moment — for its next meeting June 10.

The roughly 100 people who stood with Hartsfield at the board meeting last week want to force the board to declare that talks with Academie Lafayette are not just suspended, but dead.

The board has stated that talks are suspended while the district continues this summer with a master planning process, and it has said it would be considering the future of Southwest alongside the rest of its schools and programs. That decision hasn’t changed, board President Jon Hile said Wednesday.

The problem ahead for the board is that it left necessary business undone from the last board meeting, such as vendor contracts for summer school programming, that must be completed June 10.

“We want to hear the concerns that are raised,” Hile said. “But our first job is to carry out the business of the district.”

Hartsfield acknowledged during his standoff with the board last week that he was breaking custom when he insisted during the public comment period that Hile, Superintendent Steve Green and the rest of the board each affirm by saying “aye” that they agree to cease all Southwest negotiations.

When the board balked, he and those with him refused to stand down.

Several board members urged the group to accept an invitation to a separate meeting to allow business to continue. But they refused, and Hile adjourned the meeting.

“That’s not how we want to do business,” he told The Star.

The demonstrations before the board come as the district is heading into a pivotal transition period. With Green recently announcing he is leaving for DeKalb County Schools in Georgia, the board is preparing its search for a new superintendent.

The district, which regained provisional accreditation, is trying to continue to elevate its performance to make a bid for full accreditation.

Another round of school board elections is coming in April.

Last week’s disruption sent a rumble through what has been a time of relative stability in the district.

A series of speakers in the public comment period leading up to Hartsfield restated the publicized concerns opponents of the plan have raised. They include concerns of equity — that the district is devoting too much attention to what was to be another selective school and not enough attention to the majority of students in poorer-performing schools.

The opponents say the plans at Southwest would jeopardize the health of Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, the district’s selective, International Baccalaureate high school.

Supporters see a chance to create more high-quality high school seats that would attract and retain more families who otherwise seek school options outside the district and the city. They see room for both Lincoln and Southwest to thrive.

Mayor Sly James has urged negotiations to continue. Civic leader James Stowers III wrote the Academie Lafayette board a letter pledging $2 million in support of its expansion plans, with other civic forces ready to add more, if it could reach an agreement for Southwest.

Killing more discussions would be a disappointing move, the mayor said in an email to The Star.

“When it comes to something as important as quality education of every child in this city,” James said, “I would hope that we, as a community, would be open and willing to discuss every viable option that might achieve that goal. There needs to be more discussion and collaboration around this important issue, not less.”

The opponents are directing no complaints at Academie Lafayette, Hartsfield said. The charter school has been successful, and it is fitting for the school that it should want to expand, he said.

Hartsfield, whose wife, Amy Hartsfield, is a member of the Kansas City school board, said the opponents’ issues are with the majority of the school board that he said shouldn’t even be considering a plan that the opponents believe could hurt the education of current district students.

“This is the business of the district,” he said.

No one from Academie Lafayette’s board or administration was at the disrupted meeting, spokeswoman Sarah Guthrie said, but they are aware now of what transpired.

She affirmed that the charter and the district have not been negotiating. The charter has formed a high school planning committee “to review and research all options for a future, high-performing high school for our students and for Kansas City students and families,” she said.

Just how the Kansas City school board will proceed is a more difficult question.

Hile said that he needs to talk with board members and that he cannot comment yet on whether he will place Southwest on the June 10 agenda.

The district held numerous public meetings, including with current Southwest students and parents, after the original plan was proposed. The master-planning process also has included many public meetings, and the district promises more after a draft plan, expected later this summer, is ready.

“I hope we can find reasonable ways to resolve differences,” Hile said.

Hartsfield and other allied ministers and community members intend to hold a hard line. Any decision to leave the suspended negotiations on hold rather than dead, Hartsfield said, “would not be satisfactory.”

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