School board members who voted against a plan to sell Westport High School said Friday they were told by Kansas City’s board president that Academie Lafayette was no longer interested in the school.
“We were told the education component was gone,” board member Joseph Jackson told The Star. “That’s why we voted no.”
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But board Vice President Crispin Rea said late Friday night that he was at the meeting and did not hear anyone make such statements — neither board President Airick Leonard West nor any other board member.
Rea, who said he supported the sale, added that West, at his request, was putting Westport back on the board’s next public business meeting agenda, April 23.
And Academie Lafayette board President Dave Cozad told The Star, “Yes, we’re still interested.”
West did not comment.
Jackon’s statement, backed by the three other members who voted no, threatened to turn inside-out an intense community reaction that has been growing since early this week when The Star reported the 4-3 closed-session vote to turn down a plan to sell the vacant historic school to Foutch Brothers Real Estate.
The Foutch plan would allow Academie Lafayette to open an International Baccalaureate high school in Westport to build on its K-8 French language immersion schools. The plan also includes apartment space, some office space and making many of the school’s amenities like its gymnasiums, auditorium and swimming pool available for use by community programs.
Board members and the administration have been besieged with emails and phone calls from community members and Academie Lafayette families urging the Kansas City school board to revote and approve the sale.
The issue is also playing into Tuesday’s school board election, as candidates are being asked about their positions on Westport and on their willingness to consider partnerships with public charter schools.
Jackson said West told the board that Academie Lafayette had pulled out. It had been clear in community meetings discussing potential Westport plans that there was an overwhelming desire to have a school inside the building.
“People are making it sound like we are against charter schools,” Jackson said of the “no” voters. “We are not opposed to charter schools or partnering with charter schools.
“When we saw there was not an educational component there, we wanted to abide by the wishes of the community,” he said.
Rea disputed Jackson’s account.
“None of the board members who voted against the project state those reasons as the basis for their vote,” he said.
Certainly Academie Lafayette families believe the charter school still wants to be part of the Foutch project.
If Academie Lafayette had backed out, developer Steve Foutch said he had not been told.
The developer and the school have a letter of intent, he said, and they have been collaborating on developing detailed plans on how the school would be renovated.
“I’ve not heard anything contrary,” he said. “We’ve been waiting on the school board.”
Foutch added that if Academie Lafayette did withdraw, having that school in the building was not a condition of the sale.
“We can still continue,” he said.
The details of the vote, taken March 26, and surrounding discussions have remained private. The board’s only official word has been that the matter is “still under negotiation.”
The board has kept the vote and its discussions secret, as is allowed by the Missouri Sunshine Law when a potential real estate transaction is still under negotiation.
Meanwhile, many community members and Academie Lafayette families have been rallying to try to persuade the Kansas City school board to reconsider its vote against the sale.
“When I heard (the Kansas City board) had voted it down,” said Hyde Park resident and Academie Lafayette parent Crissy Dastrup, “something snapped in my head. This community is invested in what the school board does. Everyone is affected.”
And that’s why she is one of numerous people involved in petitions, rally planning and calling campaigns.
“I hope they revisit the Westport project,” Cozad said Friday night. “I think the board leadership, the administration and the community hope they revisit this decision.”
Jackson is the only school board member directly exposed to whatever fallout might come in the controversy over the Westport vote. He is running against Melissa Robinson in the 4th Subdistrict.
The 2nd and 6th Subdistrict incumbents, Gunnar Hand and Carl Evans, are unopposed.
The two at-large seats have no incumbents. Kyleen Carroll left the board last year, and Rea is stepping down from the board to run for City Council.
The four other seats on the nine-member board are not up for election in this cycle. So there is limited opportunity for those voters hoping to shift the board’s position through the election.
Jackson’s opponent, Robinson, said she generally does not want more independent charter school expansion.
Rea, who is stepping down, will be taking with him one of the three current “yes” votes.
All four of the at-large candidates vying for the two vacant seats described themselves as being in awkward positions in answering the many inquiries about the Westport High School sale.
They don’t know the details behind the negotiations, they said, and don’t feel like they can take a stand for or against the Westport sale.
But the candidates did see potential for partnerships with charter schools under the right conditions.
Charter schools can be “an important part of the district’s portfolio,” Amy Hartsfield said, adding that the district has to keep a long-range view of building success and bringing families back into district schools.
Pattie Mansur said the district “should be open to partnering when a charter has demonstrated high performance and benefited children in the city.”
“You have to look at a case-by-case basis,” said at-large candidate Catina Taylor. “We need to be sure a partnership is supporting great education across the board.”
Janelle Bailey said, “I support the collaboration between Kansas City Public Schools and charter schools. … I hope to continue and strengthen this collaboration.”
Whoever comes out of the election onto the new board can expect to see some crowds at their April board meetings, Dastrup said.
“Citizens are taking action,” she said.