The Missouri Supreme Court issued a ruling on Tuesday that would allow students from unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools to transfer to neighboring accredited school districts such as Blue Springs and Independence.
Despite the ruling, however, local superintendents remain undeterred in hopes of an alternative being reached to remedy Kansas City Public School’s unaccredited status before relocated students arrive in their districts.
“Putting children on buses for 30 minutes to an hour, that’s not good for anyone,” Independence Superintendent Dale Herl said Tuesday at a press conference at Van Horn High School. “To have a strong school system, it really needs to revolve around the community.”
Tuesday’s ruling from Missouri’s Supreme Court upheld a state law making unaccredited school districts responsible for providing both transportation and tuition costs for students choosing to attend class at a nearby school district that is accredited. As a result, families of students attending school in the Kansas City district would now have the option to let their children be transferred to accredited schools in the Blue Springs, Independence or Lee’s Summit districts.
“Taxpayers who are residents of the Blue Springs, Independence, Lee’s Summit, North Kansas City and Raytown School Districts challenged the statute allowing transfers as a violation of the Hancock Amendment,” Herl wrote in a message addressed to Independence school district staff, parents, and community members. “But the (Missouri) Supreme Court held that the statute imposes no new requirements on neighboring accredited school districts.”
Herl says his district could experience difficulty in terms of building capacity when Kansas City students attend. According to Herl, the district has more than 14,000 students in kindergarten through high school already and the number of incoming students would be problematic. He elaborated that an average classroom size in the Independence district is from 18 to 29 students.
“One thousand Kansas City students could be arriving to attend our district,” Herl said. “And we always look at building capacity.”
Herl also said the 1,000 Kansas City students enrolling and attending Independence schools is an estimate. He mentioned that according to a demographer’s report, there are 32,000 school-aged children living in Kansas City.
The superintendent also referenced the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts in the St. Louis area that transferred students “has not been positive.”
But when should Eastern Jackson County school districts expect to have transferred students from Kansas City?
“Following DESE (Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) guidance, students transferring here from Kansas City won’t attend until the next 2014-2015 school year,” Herl said.
Meanwhile, in spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling, local school leaders are still confident that a change in DESE policy could prevent students in unaccredited school districts from transferring and instead improve the schools they currently attend to earn or regain accreditation status. As previously reported last month, both Herl and Paul Kinder, superintendent of the Blue Springs School District, promoted the “New Path to Excellence” plan and it is still being considered by the State Board of Education, according to Gayden Carruth of Cooperating School Districts of Kansas City.
“The State Board is very aware of the alternative plan and have been very receptive to it,” Carruth said.
“New Path to Excellence” was devised by 16 superintendents across the state in early November that would utilize pre-emptive state intervention for districts on the verge on becoming unaccredited and also place emphasis on improving individual schools rather than entire districts.
However, Carruth explained there is a lot of process and procedure “New Path to Excellence” has to go through before the State Board passes it.
“Part of it is a DESE matter, the other a legislative matter,” Carruth said.
She continued that current Missouri statute does not allow classification for accredition, which “New Path to Excellence” proposes, and could take years to come to fruition.
“It would take two years to become effective (if “New Path” is implemented) unless the state legislature waives that statute,” added Carruth.
Herl also said 19 out of the 32 Kansas City public schools are currently either provisionally or fully accredited. The remaining schools in the KC district have unaccredited status under the current DESE model. With “New Path,” he hopes to put focus on improving the 13 unaccredited Kansas City schools that would allow students to remain there.
“Dr. Green has done an exemplary job,” Herl said about the current Kansas City Public Schools superintendent. “Looking at what they (KC schools) accomplished, he has improved MSIP 5 scores from 19 to 60 percent.”
Cara Anger, spokeswoman for Blue Springs School District, said officials there are still “optimistic” about “New Path to Excellence.” Herl also encouraged Independence residents to contact their state legislator in regard to the proposal, his message stated
Asked whether the Supreme Court’s upholding of the statute will be a permanent, Herl said that he hopes "it's not a knockout punch."