Judge rejects halting transfer of students from Kansas City Public Schools

Six suburban school districts were disappointed by a Jackson County judge’s decision Friday against temporarily halting the transfer of students from the unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools to outlying districts.

Suburban superintendents expect “chaos” as hundreds of new students try in vain to enroll in their schools as soon as next week.

Because Kansas City’s central district lost accreditation earlier this year, state statute allows its students to transfer to suburban classrooms at the expense of their old district, effective Jan. 1. Despite the court action Friday, suburban officials said those Kansas City students would not be admitted unless they come with thousands of dollars in tuition.

Independence Superintendent Jim Hinson said Judge Brent Powell’s decision “does not change the fact that in order to comply with state law, Kansas City Public Schools must provide tuition and transportation consistent with Independence School District board policy before any student transfers can take place.”

While Kansas City district officials said the judge made the right decision, Stephen Green, the interim superintendent, agreed with his suburban counterparts that “careful thought and planning are needed prior to the implementation of such a complex process…”

“The entire process represents uncharted waters; no precedent exists…”

The Independence, Raytown, North Kansas City, Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs districts went to court last week to ask that any transfers be delayed until the settlement of the rate of tuition, when the inner-city district pays it to the suburban districts, and who transports the students to and from the Kansas City core.

The districts, with Center schools having since joined the suit, met in court Friday morning.

“We need to say ‘time out’ and hold up until these issues are worked out, and we have not had time to plan,” Hinson said outside the courtroom. “We welcome the kids. That is not the issue.”

Because the transfers come “in the middle of the school year,” Hinson said, no one is prepared for the influx.

Duane Martin, an attorney for the suburban districts, noted that there were inquiries from hundreds of parents already. A temporary restraining order was wanted, he said, “so we wouldn’t have kids showing up at our schools and then have to turn them away.”

But an attorney for the Kansas City district, Allan Hallquist, said that granting a temporary restraining order would have made “a complicated situation even more complicated.”

In a statement Friday, Green said: “We are all caught between an effort to comply with the law on the one hand and the pressure of a timeline to implement our own reasonable interpretation of the law on the other hand.”

Powell’s ruling does not affect the plaintiffs’ other requests for relief. At a hearing scheduled for Jan. 12, the suburban schools will seek a preliminary injunction to halt transfers.

Suburban districts argue that the student transfer policy developed by Kansas City Public Schools does not comply with the state statute in a lost-accreditation situation.

“Our policy set by our school board says tuition is paid upfront,” said David McGehee, Lee’s Summit superintendent. “Clearly, Kansas City Missouri School District says they won’t pay. We are not willing to go month to month.”

Concerned that students will show up to enroll without behavior records, McGehee said that Lee’s Summit “does not want to be thought of as an elitist district. We want to be part of the solution. We just need to be sure that we protect our students.”

On the other hand, Kansas City Public Schools officials do not want to pay the tuitions set by the suburban schools, which could be as high as $10,000 for high school. Kansas City policy is that until tuition requirements were clarified, it would pay the state allocation of $3,733 per pupil on a monthly basis.

In its policy, Kansas City also wants the other districts to handle transportation and wait for reimbursement.

It also wants to pay tuition only for students who attended schools in the Kansas City district through the last two semesters. Those who enrolled outside the core district or in charter schools earlier would not be considered.

In court, Hallquist acknowledged that the two-semester rule may violate statutes and need to be changed. Kansas City district officials declined to comment on his statements.

Hallquist also argued that the case did not belong in Jackson County Circuit Court because the matters should be handled by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.