A Jackson County judge on Friday denied a request to block expected student transfers out of the Kansas City School District until an orderly process can be ironed out.

A Jackson County judge on Friday denied a request to block expected student transfers out of the Kansas City School District until an orderly process can be ironed out.

Those attempted transfers could start as early as Tuesday, when students head back to class, but Independence Superintendent Jim Hinson said his district and others would put transfer applicants on a pre-enrollment list as legal issues continue to be clarified.

Circuit Court Judge W. Brent Powell posted the order without comment hours after a one hour and 20 minute hearing Friday morning. Six area school districts – including Independence and Blue Springs – had asked for a temporary restraining order to block transfers out of the Kansas City district based on that district’s loss of state accreditation, which takes effect Jan. 1.

“It’s simply because we’re going to have chaos next week,” attorney Duane Martin told Judge Powell. Martin represents the Independence, Blue Springs and other districts, which differ sharply with the Kansas City district over procedures and payments for students leaving that district.

The six districts say they have received about 1,600 inquiries – 200 to 300 in Independence alone – from families interested in transferring, and they say adding staff and programming to handle hundreds if not thousands of new students in the middle of the school year would place a huge cost on their taxpayers.

“I’m certainly worried about that cost,” Hinson said.

Powell did schedule another hearing, on Jan. 12, for a request by the districts for a preliminary injunction along the same lines as Friday’s request.

Hinson said Friday’s ruling was not surprising but said it was notable that the Kansas City district admitted in court that parts of its recently adopted transfer policy don’t meet state law.

“Those policies are not aligned with those of the other districts,” Hinson said.

Hinson said the accredited districts are looking for breathing space – essentially until the new school year begins in August – as the Missouri General Assembly this winter and spring considers action regarding the Kansas City district and as a key court case in the St. Louis area goes to trial in March. The court case, Turner vs. Clayton School District, could clear up questions about whether districts have the legal latitude to say when their schools are at capacity and cannot take in more transfers.

Legislators have suggested a range of options but could consider steps as drastic as a state takeover of the district or breaking it up.

“When you’re looking at a school district that’s not successful, you have to look at leadership and governance,” Hinson said.

Hinson also said a crucial point is that officials are again in court, using time and resources to argue about a failed district when it’s students who are suffering.

“It’s time for it to stop,” he said.

Hinson also emphasized that the accredited districts’ concerns are about workable, equitable plans for transfers.

“We welcome kids,” he said. “That’s not the issue”

The issues involved are complex in a way compounded by policy decisions made in the closing days of the year even as the key date of Jan. 1 approached. State law allows students in districts that lose accreditation to transfer – at the expense of the unaccredited district – to another district in that county or an adjoining county. Districts such as Independence and Blue Springs months ago adopted policies to address that possibility. Among other things, those policies set tuition based on criteria laid out in state law, arriving at figures of $9,000 to $10,000 a year. The districts also want to be paid in advance.

In September, state officials announced that the Kansas City district, which for years has failed to meet state standards, would lose accreditation effective Jan. 1. It wasn’t until Dec. 21 that Kansas City adopted its own transfer policy, with tuition about one-third of what the accredited districts called for, with no full upfront payment and with limits on which students would be covered.

Independence and other districts were formally notified of Kansas City’s policy the next day, and the day after that – the Friday before Christmas – they went to court.

“The best thing that we can do is be able to plan. ... It’s chaos because it’s the middle of the school year,” Hinson said.

Some of those differences played out in court Friday:

n The six accredited districts said Kansas City’s refusal to make a provision to transport students would effectively put that burden on them, a violation of the Missouri Constitution’s Hancock Amendment, which addresses tax expenditures not approved by voters. Judge Powell jumped in: Couldn’t you just tell parents that upfront and leave that question between parents and the Kansas City district. Yes, attorney Martin replied, but the effect would be the hollow promise of an education because it would inevitably lead to serious lapses in attendance. Allan Hallquist, attorney for the Kansas City district, conceded that the district’s policy on that point doesn’t meet state law and would have to be changed.

n The Kansas City district says it will only pay for students who have been enrolled in its schools for two consecutive semesters, although state law says any student may go elsewhere. The Kansas City policy, Martin argued, leaves out home-schooled students and those at private academies, potentially a large number who might want to transfer. Hallquist also conceded flaws in that policy.

n Paying tuition after the fact in effect makes the accredited districts unsecured creditors for the Kansas City district, whose own fortunes are unclear. Joe Hatley, attorney for the Center School District, noted “some real concerns” about the solvency of the Kansas City district and said that will worsen when it has to pay to educate and transport students to neighboring districts – maybe as many as 10 percent of the students living within its borders, he said. That could tip the district into collapse, he said. (Center on Friday joined the initial five suing districts – Independence, Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit, Raytown and North Kansas City – in their lawsuit.)

At any rate, Hatley said, the accredited districts believe at some point Kansas City will be unable to pay them. Wouldn’t the action you’re asking for hasten that decline, the judge asked? Perhaps, Hatley said, but our taxpayers shouldn’t be left holding the bag.

Hallquist, the Kansas City attorney, said the $3,700 tuition figure it was offering amounts to down payment and the district would pay the rest when the state sorts out the differences among the districts’ various tuition rates.

n What about special-needs students – 10 to 15 percent of the population – who transfer in, with individualized education programs in place, that the new district by law has to meet on Day 1, even if that means hiring hard-to-find special ed teachers in the middle of the school year? Hatley called that a “recipe for disaster.”

“Your honor,” he said, “nobody is budgeted for this.”