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Kansas City mayor leads attempt to draft school plan

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 | 12:43 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — Local political and school leaders rushed this week to propose a plan for the Kansas City Missouri School District, days before state education officials were to submit their own proposals.

The Missouri State Board of Education voted in September to revoke the accreditation for the Kansas City School District effective Jan. 1, and state Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro was scheduled to present her plan for the district during a state board meeting Thursday and Friday in Branson. But Kansas City Mayor Sly James, several area legislators and others have met privately and hope to buy time to develop a community-driven plan.

The Kansas City Star reported Wednesday that the group met Monday evening and was still working to build agreement. James said everything remains possible between doing nothing and dissolving the Kansas City School District.

"It's a difficult thing," he said. "We're trying to build consensus and not divide the city," James said.

Several people who attended the meeting said some superintendents from surrounding districts also were involved, along with parent groups and the teachers union. No local school board members or administrators attended the meeting Monday.

Enrollment in the Kansas School District has shrunk to about 17,000 from a peak of 75,000 in the late 1960s. The district also lost its accreditation in 2000 but made improvements to avoid a state takeover. It has held provisional accreditation since 2002.

Under state law, the soonest the state could take over the Kansas City School District would be June 30, 2014. The state Board of Education then could appoint a special administrative board to govern the district, merge Kansas City with a nearby district or split the district into several new school systems. The state previously intervened in the Wellston School District in suburban St. Louis and in St. Louis public schools.

State education officials were to propose a plan for monitoring or administering the Kansas City School District. Nicastro has held town hall meetings during the past two months and in October suggested the current elected school board would be willing to voluntarily step aside to give authority to a state panel.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has gathered more than 500 comments through a public website.

The District Advisory Committee, which includes parents and community members, has said it wants state education officials to work with the current school board. The teachers union and NAACP also want to keep an elected school board.

Others have called for an appointed board. They include the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City and the Mattie Rhodes Center. The Urban Summit, which includes several Kansas City organizations, has suggested several people who could serve on an appointed board.

Kansas City school board member Arthur Benson said he thought local officials would step down if a better plan was developed for improving student performance, but he has not seen one yet. The district has a transformation plan under way that state officials approved.

"None of the critics of this elected school board has suggested any improvements to that plan," Benson said.


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