KC district outlines how student transfers might proceed

The Kansas City Public Schools laid down some conditions Thursday under which it may begin allowing student transfers once the district loses accreditation Jan. 1.

But conflicts with policies in neighboring districts will likely mean that few families can move until courts or lawmakers clear up unanswered questions.

Kansas City and its neighboring districts are scrambling to comply with state law that allows families in an unaccredited district to transfer to an accredited district in the same or adjacent county.

“We wanted to get some information out to our families before we go into winter recess,” Kansas City Interim Superintendent Steve Green said. “This is our interpretation of the law as we see it.”

Under its new policy, the district would provide transfer only for a student who has been enrolled in a district school and attended for at least two full semesters.

The district will pay for transportation if a student is transferring to a bordering district — North Kansas City, Independence, Raytown or Center — and it will pay tuition to the receiving district on a monthly basis.

The policy leaves gaps, however, between what neighboring districts’ policies generally require to accept a transfer.

The neighboring districts want tuition paid in full, not monthly. And Kansas City said it would pay for transportation, but makes no provision to provide it. Neighboring districts are unlikely to create bus routes to pick up Kansas City transfers.

And since each district sets up its tuition fees, it’s unclear what would happen if there is a disagreement on the appropriate tuition cost.

“There are a lot of mechanical things,” Center School District Superintendent Bob Bartman said. “We’re trying to work on the protocol.”

The area districts are asserting policies and creating new ones to fill the void of details missing in the state statute that allows the transfers from an unaccredited district.

But a legal cloud hangs overhead, awaiting resolution either in a St. Louis-area courtroom or from lawmakers in Jefferson City.

The St. Louis area has been wrangling with these issues primarily since St. Louis Public Schools became unaccredited in 2007.

For most of that time, few transfers occurred because St. Louis had declined to pay tuition, and surrounding districts weren’t pressing the issue. But some St. Louis parents sued the Clayton School District to get it to bill St. Louis for tuition they had been paying.

A ruling in the Missouri Supreme Court found that the statute required districts to allow the transfers, but the court sent the case back to circuit court to work out the details.

That case has been delayed and is not set for trial until March.

So, while Kansas City-area districts flex their policies in the meantime, the court’s eventual ruling could deal a trump card.

Lawmakers also hope to agree on clarifying the law, but attempts to do that last year failed.

Families are asking about transfers, surrounding school district leaders say.

Center, a small district of less than 2,500 students, has had inquiries from 42 families involving 96 children, Bartman said.

But it is hard to tell how many would actually want to see their children transported from their neighborhoods.

“I don’t anticipate a tremendous exodus,” Green said. Changing schools is hard on students academically, he said, “and there’s also the social aspect, leaving friends in the middle of the year.”

If the gaps between school district policies don’t close, there may not be any transfers — at least until the court weighs in.