Four years ago voters grabbed a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change school district lines and move seven schools out of the failing Kansas City School District and into the Independence School District.

Four years ago voters grabbed a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change school district lines and move seven schools out of the failing Kansas City School District and into the Independence School District.

Those schools have made tremendous gains under new management. It’s not that the students were suddenly smarter. The schools are simply more rigorously run, with community involvement and commitment, and students in an improved atmosphere have met the increased expectations set for them.

So when word came this week that the Kansas City School District has lost its state accreditation and faces the prospect of a state takeover in a couple of years – barring legislative action even sooner – who can blame Independence residents for breathing a quiet sigh of relief? Thank goodness that didn’t happen to our western Independence schools.

But it’s not that simple.

For one thing, there is the very real possibility of parents in an unaccredited district taking advantage of state law and enrolling their kids in other – accredited – nearby districts. Who would blame them? There are several questions about exactly how that works, and an upcoming court case could settle some of them. But more students in the Independence district, for example, would mean more costs that have to be recouped, presumably from a Kansas City district that’s already financially strapped and that has in the recent past pursued bizarre legal action against Independence regarding money.

The larger issue is this: This metro area has any number of opportunities and challenges, but it is a fundamental fact that the area will not prosper or meaningfully move forward without a functioning and productive school system – the largest in the area – at its core. The dysfunction of the Kansas City district has been a drag on development for decades. The recent improvements are welcome but clearly not enough. Even the state of Missouri concedes it might have let the district stumble along for too long before stripping accreditation.

The changes to come in the months and years ahead will be painful. They are needed. Every teacher and administrator in every school – Kansas City, the suburbs, wherever – needs to focus on the welfare of kids. It’s just that simple.