KC board to sue state over accreditation

The Kansas City school board intends to sue the state Friday to try to get provisional accreditation and shield the district from the mounting threat of a student transfer law.

The legal action is necessary, Kansas City school board President Airick Leonard West said, to “protect our scholars from chaos.”

West clarified the board’s intent to The Star after a late afternoon news conference Thursday.

He announced that the district would be seeking an injunction because of a Missouri Supreme Court ruling this week that upheld state law that would allow students in the unaccredited Kansas City district to transfer to any accredited districts in Jackson or adjoining counties.

The district has been arguing that it scored well enough on the state’s school district report card in its second year of improvement to earn provisional accreditation.

If the state were to grant the higher accreditation, the Kansas City district and its neighboring districts would not be exposed to the transfer law.

In requesting the injunction, West said, the district would be asking a Cole County circuit judge to stop enforcement of the transfer law while the district’s case for provisional accreditation is pending.

A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said the department would have to see the lawsuit before it could make any comment.

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro all along has recommended that the district remain unaccredited because she said it needs to record at least another year of improvement to show it can sustain its gains.

The state board agreed and voted in October to keep Kansas City unaccredited.

Much of the district’s improvement in the August report card was in non-test performance areas. Seventy percent of its students did not perform at a proficient level.

But Kansas City did earn 60 percent of the possible points on the August report card, which placed it well above the 50 percent threshold to be considered for provisional accreditation. It had boosted its percent from a score of 19.6 in a preliminary scoring in December 2012.

Neighboring superintendents and their school boards, who are also concerned about potential effects of the transfer law, have been backing Kansas City’s bid for the higher designation.

“I think Kansas City is within their legal rights to file for provisional accreditation,” Raytown Superintendent Allan Markley said. “They have met the requirements under the new guidelines (of the state’s report card system). Why pull the rug out from under them?”

The transfer law is already being implemented in the St. Louis area with the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts, where some 2,500 students out of their combined enrollment of 10,600 sought transfers.

The receiving districts, after some initial contentious public meetings in some communities last summer, have demonstrated many efforts to welcome the new students and help them succeed. But the many students remaining in Normandy and Riverview Gardens are going to schools suffering from financial strain that the education department said is leading them to bankruptcy.

Kansas City became unaccredited in January 2012, when it was coming off a tumultuous year of school closings and the sudden departure of a superintendent — and saw its report card score fall in August 2011.

The district improved in its August 2012 report, but remained just below provisional. The state installed a new scoring system for 2013. A preliminary test putting the last three years of data into the new system showed Kansas City earning 19.6 percent of the possible points.

But by August, the district had made the leap into the provisional level.

The district still has a lot of ground to make up to get more students testing at higher levels, but it is making gains at a time of renewed stability in leadership and in operations, West said.

Now that the Supreme Court has affirmed the transfer law, the district’s quest to get provisional designation takes on heightened urgency, West said.

“The board has directed our legal counsel to pursue appropriate legal remedies that will protect the academic well-being of our scholars from certain chaos and disruption,” he said at the news conference.