District warns it may end contract for African-centered program

As the Kansas City Public Schools steps up the fight for its survival, it may be going without its African-centered education program as a partner.

Interim Superintendent Steve Green has notified the contract school that the district does not intend to renew their relationship after this school year — at least unless the ACE program makes several concessions.

The district is concerned about what has been a continuing difficulty in agreeing on financial issues, Green said.

The district received what was a mostly clean audit, which was presented at its school board meeting Wednesday night, but one of the auditor’s concerns was the district’s management and monitoring of some vendors.

Supporters of the ACE program packed the school board meeting and urged the district to continue discussions to allow the program to remain intact on its campus at the former Southeast High School.

“This community loves what is happening there,” said the Rev. Sam Mann, chair of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “They’re not going to want to let it close because of some political issue.”

African-centered education has had a long history in the district, struggling for many years to gain the confidence and support of the changing school boards. The program finally gained the status it needed and became a contract school.

But disputes over funding have plagued the relationship. Former Superintendent John Covington had originally included reducing the campus from three buildings to one during his school consolidation plan in 2010, but worked out a deal that gave the program a per-student rate of funding with the understanding it could keep all three buildings if ACE could make it work financially.

The ACE program contends that the district has not paid a fair share to the contract school and sued the district in a case that is set for trial in mid-January.

The district might be able to renew a contract with ACE if it could be restructured to give the district control of many of the finances, Green said. The campus likely would need to be reduced by at least one building. “And the lawsuit,” he added, “would need to go away.”

“We have no criticism of the quality of the program,” Green said. “But when we are audited, the auditors don’t ask us how the vendor is performing. They want to know how well we are managing the financial relationship.”

District observers are anticipating efforts by lawmakers that could dismantle the district — something neither the district nor ACE supporters want, said Urban Summit member Clinton Adams.

“It’s very important that we get this matter resolved so we can work together,” Adams said.