KC district discloses how it will handle transfers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City School District announced Thursday how it will respond to a state law that allows students from unaccredited districts to transfer to better-performing schools.

After years of low test scores and administrative churn, the state’s Board of Education voted this fall to strip the Kansas City district of its accreditation, effective Jan. 1. That made the district subject to that state law that requires unaccredited districts to pay tuition and transportation to send students living within their boundaries to accredited schools in the same or an adjoining county.

Neighboring districts have heard from dozens of families who are interested in transferring. The Center district alone has received calls from about 40 families with 96 children among them.

The law also affects unaccredited St. Louis Public Schools and the nearby Riverview Gardens School District. But the St. Louis-area districts have been keeping out transfer-seekers while litigation over the law continues. The districts claim unfettered transfers would overwhelm their schools and that it’s impossible to comply.

However, the Kansas City-area schools are signaling that they will attempt to follow the law.

Steve Green, the interim superintendent for the Kansas City schools, said the policy is a work in progress and a first stab at fleshing out a law that doesn’t offer a lot of specifics. Although it is something the district could take action on now, it could change as soon as Wednesday when the district’s board meets.

“It is significantly complicated, and I think we are in unchartered waters because I think we are different than St. Louis or the other district,” he said. “This is new terrain, going this far in the process. While we are still trying to be in compliance and follow state statue we are still feverously on the path of trying to restore our accreditation.”

The policy allows students to transfer to accredited districts in Jackson County or adjoining counties. But the district says it will pay transportation costs only to send students to four adjoining districts — Center, Independence, North Kansas City and Raytown.

Some believe the law would allow students attending private and parochial schools to transfer as long as they live in an unaccredited districts’ boundaries. However, the Kansas City district said students must have attended district schools for two full semesters before becoming eligible to transfer.

Payments will be made to accredited districts on a monthly basis. The policy also says students must reenroll in the Kansas City district should it regain provisional or full accreditation.

The law is highly controversial and legislators already have started proposing legislation for their upcoming session that would make significant changes.

One proposal would give districts the ability to reject transfers that would overload classrooms. It also seeks to fill successful schools within unaccredited districts before allowing students to leave for neighboring districts.

Under current Missouri law, the soonest the state could take over the Kansas City School District would be June 30, 2014. But it’s possible legislation will be introduced to speed up the process.

Another proposal seeks to make it easier for districts to annex portions of unaccredited districts. Lawmakers also are drafting legislation that would allow suburban districts to operate schools in the Kansas City district.

Center Superintendent Bob Bartman said he is interested in improving what is happening in the Kansas City district’s boundaries because poor students are highly mobile and frequently transfer to the surrounding districts.

“The kids that migrate to us as part of the general poverty kind of migration and come to us from the Kansas City School District need help,” said Bartman, a former Missouri education commissioner. “So it would be better if they came to us with skills that allow them to be successful when they arrive in our school district.”

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