When I attended the emergency meeting for the Kansas City Public Schools district Jan. 19, I half-expected to see a room full of angry parents shouting complaints “Parks and Recreation” style to a disorganized group of Board members in the front of the room.
To my surprise, I found a cooperative, organized group of parents, teachers and community members working together to form a plan to help the failing district.
The District Advisory Committee, made up of representatives from schools in the district, presided over the meeting, which began with a presentation and ended in questions and suggestions. Leaders discussed possible methods of governance for the district and included examples of districts similar to Kansas City’s that had working governance structures.
The committee had previously completed various surveys asking community members what they wanted to see happen in the district. Based on those surveys, they presented a plan, which they continuously update as they receive more feedback, representing the views of the community.
The plan includes a grassroots governing structure, in which most of the power lies in the community. The current elected school board would remain but share collaborative leadership with teachers, principals, parents and students. They also emphasized the importance of stakeholder ownership, parent engagement and especially student achievement.
Recently though, senator Jane Cunningham proposed a bill that would dissolve the district within six months and allow neighboring districts to decide what to do with the schools. Her plan also includes giving students government-funded scholarships that would allow them to attend private schools.
Parts of Cunningham’s plan make sense. Offering government vouchers to students in the district would allow hard-working, qualified students to afford private schools like STA; that way, no student would lose the right to a good education simply because he or she couldn’t afford it. For this reason, Mr. Dan Peters, superintendent for Catholic schools in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, backs Cunningham’s proposed bill.
On the other hand, dissolving the district seems like it should be a last resort instead of the immediate measure Cunningham wants it to be. Currently, the district has two years before the state takes over, but this bill would take effect immediately. The problem I see with this option is that it does not address the root causes of the district’s failure; Missouri’s commissioner of education Chris Nicastro put it best at the December Board meeting: “It’s hard to imagine a viable metropolitan community without a school district,” she said. “While many of the children might well be served in neighboring districts, the challenges associated with educating the urban core–poverty, socio-economic factors, family dysfunction and so forth–will not be addressed simply by dispersing the children.”
But even if I did fully support the bill, what about the Kansas City citizens who don’t? The major problem with this solution is that the community has no say. What happens to the district affects the entire city, including those of us in surrounding schools.
At the emergency district meeting, I got an idea of what the Kansas City community wants, and Cunningham’s bill does not reflect that. Maybe the people will change their minds, but right now they seem to have a different plan for the future of the district.
The Kansas City community cares about its schools, and more importantly, about its children. The people of Kansas City are working just as hard as legislators to find a way to fix the district–the state needs to give them the vote they deserve before they pass a bill dissolving the district.