Editorials

Kansas City school board will lose two members. What will redistricting look like?

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By this time next year, the Kansas City Public School Board of Directors will have two fewer members and new boundaries for elected officials’ districts.

It’s possible that the entire board could turn over, as every position will be open in the April 2019 election.

The shift, from nine board members to seven, is the result of a Missouri law passed in 2013. The change was introduced by then-Sen. Paul LeVota to align the Kansas City district with board configurations across the state.

One at-large seat will be dropped along with one sub-district seat. Precisely what the changes will mean for the district remains to be seen. A board filled with newcomers could reshape the district’s governance, shift its focus and reassess support for Superintendent Mark Bedell.

Much will depend upon how the new boundaries are drawn.

Five maps laying out redistricting options will be presented by a team of consultants at Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. school board meeting. The maps are being drawn using the 2010 census. The choices will be narrowed to three by mid-May, and the final map will be chosen by the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners by the end of August.

That’s a relatively short time line for such a significant reconfiguration.

In 2017, the school district successfully lobbied for a change to the original legislation. After next spring’s election, board members’ terms will be staggered. The concern was that it was simply too great of a threat to have a new slate of candidates sweep in with the intention of upending a superintendent, said John Fierro, chair of the school board’s government relations committee.

Stability and accountability in both elected and hired leadership have historically been an Achilles’ heel for the district. Those concerns have largely dissipated under Bedell and the current board, offering the hope of regaining full accreditation.

District leadership is wisely encouraging broad community input. More than 50 neighborhood leaders, nonprofit stakeholders and others have been invited to a breakfast Friday at district offices to hear more about the proposed maps. Future public meetings are being planned for the summer.

Parents and others interested in the success of Kansas City Public Schools should speak up during the redistricting process to ensure that the lines are drawn fairly and all parts of the city have a strong voice on the school board.

Now is a pivotal time for Kansas City’s school district. Strides have been made this year in easing tensions between district schools and the more than 20 charter schools operating within its boundaries. In the past, charter schools were largely viewed as unfair competitors for students, drawing children away from the district.

The goal should be to offer an assortment of high-quality schools spread across the district so that all families have good educational options. Future members of the board, no matter how the district lines are redrawn, should remain focused on that priority.

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