KANSAS CITY — Kansas City students could have a tough time taking advantage of a Missouri law that allows them to transfer from unaccredited to accredited schools.
Three surrounding districts said Friday that the amount the Kansas City district is willing to pay them is insufficient. That sets up a dispute that might not be resolved by Jan. 1, the date the long-troubled district's loss of accreditation takes effect, allowing transfers to begin.
Neighboring districts have heard from dozens of families who want to transfer. A state law requires unaccredited districts to pay tuition and transportation costs to send students living within their boundaries to accredited schools in the same or an adjoining county.
Under a policy released Thursday, the Kansas City district said it would pay $3,733 for the 2012 fiscal year and would make the payments in monthly installments. The district also said it will pay transportation costs only to send students to four adjoining districts.
But three of those districts — Center, Raytown and North Kansas City — said the tuition amount the district is offering is well below the cost of educating students. The districts also said their board policies require them to receive tuition upfront before accepting out-of-district students, not in monthly installments. They said the tuition issues will need to be resolved before they accept students.
Surrounding districts also question whether they are expected to provide transportation because the Kansas City district's policy reads that payments for "transportation costs actually provided" shall be made at the same time as the monthly tuition payment.
"We aren't going to provide the transportation," Center Superintendent Bob Bartman said. "That is beyond our capacity. We have a policy that says we won't transport nonresident students. That is one of the issues that will present a challenge to families who would like their kids to be transferred to another district, that the transportation is in limbo."
Students living within the district but attending private, parochial or charter schools also would be prevented from transferring to accredited schools under the Kansas City district's policy. That's because the policy requires students to have attended district schools for two semesters before becoming eligible to transfer.
But Sen. Jane Cunningham, a St. Louis-area Republican, said restricting transfers to district students is a violation of the law.
"You don't want to punish someone who is already sacrificing to make sure their child gets a good education," she said.
The Kansas City district didn't respond for comment Friday, but interim Superintendent Steve Green said Thursday that the policy is a work in progress.
"It could change as we learn more about what the state intended in the state statute," Green said. "It could take on a number of different expressions."
Raytown Superintendent Alan Markley said it looks like the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would wind up as the arbitrator over the dispute.
"There are quite a few days between now and Jan. 1 to sit down and work something out," he said.
Education Department spokeswoman Michele Clark said the agency is awaiting the outcome of a court case filed after a suburban St. Louis district kept out transfer seekers. St. Louis Public Schools and the nearby Riverview Gardens School District also are unaccredited, but the suburban districts surrounding them have been limiting transfers while litigation continues.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled last year that students living in unaccredited districts are owed the right to free transfers and that accredited schools must take the students. The court sent the case back to St. Louis County Circuit Court, where a trial has been pushed back to March to discuss issues including a claim by the accredited schools that it's impossible to comply.
Clark said the questions in Kansas City about how to comply with the law "highlight the complexity of the situation, and I think that is in a large part what is needing to be worked out in the courts."
Further complicating the issue, lawmakers are planning to introduce legislation in their upcoming session. One bill being drafted would allow the suburban districts to contract to operate schools in the Kansas City district.
"I would rather work to a solution that would benefit all students involved," Markley said. "If that is at the end of the day the solution that is best for all involved, let's do that. If there is something else that is more beneficial, what is it and let's do that. Obviously the status quo isn't working."