Missouri education official wants more time for KC

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said Friday that she isn’t ready to recommend specific actions the state should take to try to right the troubled Kansas City School District, which will become unaccredited Jan. 1.

Instead, Nicastro urged Kansas City residents to agree on a shared vision for their schools’ future and how they want the state to proceed. She said if the community wants a special administrative board to run its schools instead of the current elected board, it should say so. She also suggested that the Legislature should consider eliminating the two-year period the state must wait to step in after a district loses its accreditation.

State education officials were meeting in Branson for a discussion that included Kanas City schools. The Missouri State Board of Education voted in September to revoke the Kansas City district’s accreditation starting next year after it failed for several years to meet most of the state’s academic performance standards. Under current Missouri law, the soonest the state could take over the Kansas City School District would be June 30, 2014.

In a written report Friday, Nicastro said quick action is important in Kansas City but that there needs to be agreement within the community.

“Advancing a recommendation for governance or other intervention prior to the community reaching consensus about what this should look like would simply add to the dysfunction and prolong the disruption for children and adults,” Nicastro said. “The Kansas City community, the Kansas City School District and the department must move forward as partners, not adversaries.”

Steve Green, the interim superintendent for the Kansas City schools, said the district is working to implement changes to help boost student achievement. He said the district was looking forward to a definitive answer for its future governance but would not allow uncertainty to become a distraction.

“It would be helpful to have greater clarity about what lies ahead in the future regarding this area; however, I fully understand and appreciate that consensus building in a diverse community like Kansas City is extremely complex and takes times,” Green said.

Nicastro outlined several options for the Kansas City School District that included a state advisory board to assist local officials, appointing a special administrative board to replace the existing local school board and giving the city’s mayor responsibility for the schools

Kansas City Mayor Sly James on Thursday suggested steps that would give the mayor’s office control of the school district. He said in a statement Friday that he looks forward to a discussion leading to agreement.

“Our charge going forward is not easy but is absolutely necessary,” James said. “We need to determine the best course of action, whatever course it is, my plan or another, jointly commit to that plan, and take action now.”

Enrollment in Kansas City has shrunk to about 17,000 from its peak of 75,000 in the late 1960s. The district lost its accreditation in 2000 but made improvements and avoided a state takeover. It had been provisionally accredited since 2002. Missouri education officials previously intervened in the Wellston School District in suburban St. Louis and the in St. Louis public schools.

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