KC official: Local control important for failing schools

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 | 5:28 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — The president of the Kansas City school board said Wednesday that local control is a key part of improving student achievement as a Missouri House committee considered allowing state officials to intervene sooner in failing schools.

Districts that lose accreditation currently are given two years to improve before state officials can step in. Lawmakers are considering whether to remove the waiting period and expand options for state officials in deciding what to do.

Several Kansas City school board members on Wednesday urged lawmakers to consider changes designed to bolster community involvement, such as moving board elections to August in hopes of boosting voter turnout and changing the structure of the local school board.

Kansas City schools became unaccredited this year, and state officials must wait until at least June 2014 before intervening. St. Louis Public Schools and the Riverview Gardens School District in St. Louis County also are unaccredited.

After the legislative hearing, Kansas City board president Airick Leonard West said it is wise to give state education officials more flexibility. He said the question is how best to improve student performance in Kansas City.

"Local control is a critical part of restoring achievement because it is the vehicle through which we inspire communities to take ownership of the educational process," West said. "Anything that divorces communities from their sense of obligation for our scholars' well-being damages public education. Anything that increases their sense of ownership supports it."

Several parents and others from Kansas City said two years is too long to wait. They called for changes with the region's schools.

Under the proposed legislation, the Missouri State Board of Education would examine school districts that become unaccredited and establish conditions allowing the local school board to remain in place or determine when to impose an alternative system. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would hold at least two public hearings.

State education officials would have several options for governing unaccredited schools.

Existing options — appointing a special administrative board, merging the unaccredited district with a nearby district or splitting unaccredited districts into several new school systems — would remain.

Officials also could keep the existing school board in place while setting specific conditions, or they could design an alternative governing structure if they provide a rationale for that option, allow public comment and set expectations for improvement that include a goal for when the district would regain state accreditation.

The legislation already has cleared the Senate, and House members are considering some changes. Lawmakers must approve the same version of the legislation. They are required to adjourn May 18.

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