Since the State of Missouri began accrediting public schools in the early 1990’s the Kansas City Public Schools has never been fully accredited. It has swung between unaccredited and provisionally accredited status. Many administrations and school boards, including the current ones, have committed to gain accreditation. After six years of observing board meetings and other district meetings, talking with teachers, staff and parents, and reviewing data, Do the Right Thing for Kids has come to believe that outside intervention will be needed to turn around a system that has for so long been locked in a dysfunctional culture.
For the first time in decades there is a likelihood that significant change is coming. Two bills passed by the Missouri General Assembly and signed by the Governor impact the Kansas City Public Schools. One is relatively simple; it reduces the number of members of the school board from 9 to 7, the size of most other school boards, and shifts election times to the date of municipal elections. The law, which will take effect in 2019, aims to make the board more manageable and to encourage broader citizen participation. Its specific effects are yet to be seen, but it will clearly change political dynamics.
The second bill could have much more dramatic impact. It allows the Missouri Commissioner of Education to take control of the district when the law goes into effect August 28 if substantial improvement has not been achieved. District personnel refer to exceeding the cut-off of 70 percentage points on the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) evaluation scale as the hurdle. Test results, one of the major criteria, are due in August. The Commissioner and State Board of Education, however, have discretion to take other factors into account when deciding the fate of the district. The Commissioner has said that she is looking for “marked improvement.” What that means remains to be seen. Several courses of action are possible:
- The school board and administration could be left in place, but with close monitoring by the State and a deadline of three years (or two years under some circumstances) for achieving accreditation or being taken over.
- The Commissioner could lapse the corporate organization, appoint a special governing board of at least five people, and the board would select a CEO who would manage the district.
- The state could assign schools to surrounding districts, divide the district into new districts, or develop alternative structures.
There are other provisions in the bill that are less frequently discussed. These include contracts, teacher tenure and termination.
Under any course of action a series of community meetings will be held to get citizen input. It should be noted, however, that an almost endless series of public meetings, planning sessions, school and district advisory councils, and other get-togethers have already been held. Whether more useful information can be added is questionable. One thing that can be counted on is that there will be the usual jockeying for positions on the appointed board if that happens, as well as discussions about racial representation issues and concern about jobs. We hope that some of the discussion will be about what’s best for children.
Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is currently developing a teacher performance evaluation system with ratings based partly on test results.
We urge concerned citizens to read the two bills and be heard at public meetings where there will be an abundance of district employees and friends urging that the State to leave us alone because “local control is the best solution.” Question: Why hasn’t it worked for almost 40 years?
To find SB 125 and SB 258 go to www.senate.mo.gov and enter the bill number in the bill finder space. You can read the full bill or an official summary.