Nicastro delays decision on who oversees unaccredited KCMSD - KCTV5 News

Nicastro delays decision on who oversees unaccredited KCMSD

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Missouri Board of Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro has postponed a decision on who should oversee the district once it becomes unaccredited on Jan. 1.

The Missouri Board of Education is standing by its decision from September to strip the district of its accreditation. Nicastro had suggested the elected board should step aside and a state-appointed board oversee the district.

But Kansas City Mayor Sly James on Thursday announced that he and a citizens panel that he had convened believe a mayoral takeover is the best option.

Nicastro said her office received more than 500 suggestions from the community and more time is needed. The board agreed with her recommendation.

The education commissioner said the state has five governance options: keep the status quo, a mayoral takeover, a special advisory board appointed by the state, dissolve the district and divide it among surrounding districts or a special board to replace the elected board.

Nicastro said splitting the district up would face significant difficulties. She said it is hard to imagine Kansas City without a single district and challenges, such as poverty and crime, would not be addressed by this option. She said the ensuing political fighting would disrupt children's education.

Creating a special board to replace the elected board would require action by the Missouri General Assembly.

Board president Peter Hershend said he supports giving the Kansas City School District six months to see if education improves under the current leadership. He said no perfect solution has been proposed.

"Those students have been failed by the Kansas City system and it just isn't a one time occurrence," Hershend said. "Being unaccredited is something you earn. You get there by failing to perform for the students. That is the core of the issue."

The board also said they want the community to come together around the single proposal and give the Missouri General Assembly an opportunity to weigh in during its upcoming session.

Board members said they want to thoughtfully consider the next steps before moving forward on a plan that they hope will improve education in Kansas City.

"Advancing a recommendation for governance or other intervention prior to the community reaching consensus as to what this should look like would simply add to the dysfunction and prolong the disruption for children and for adults," Nicastro said.

"When you have impassioned pleas from a community that range from go away and leave us alone to blow it up and everything in between that doesn't speak for community consensus."

Under state law, the Kansas City School District has until June 30, 2014, to regain accreditation.

In a statement, James said he appreciates Nicastro's efforts. He said he looks forward "to continuing our positive working relationship as our community conversation leads to a consensus plan."

He said change won't be easy but is "absolutely necessary."

"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," he said.

Interim Kansas City School District Superintendent Stephen Green reiterated Friday that district employees remain focused on student learning.

"While we welcome an eventual and definitive answer to the governance question, we will now use it as a crutch or allow it to become a further distraction," Green said in a statement. "We remain open to ideas and proactive interaction with our community, but the drum beat of educating students will continue."

Green said getting clarity about the district's governance "would be helpful," but said building consensus will take time.

Kansas City Schools board member Arthur Benson traveled to Branson and he said the board wants to work with the state to improve academics, but is unwilling to step aside.

"Our board fully embraces anyone's offer for help and it's been the board's position that we want to see plans with evidence that they can be successful," he said.

Ultimately, the state must strongly consider what Kansas City wants and not act prematurely, Nicastro said.

"I think it would be disrespectful for us as a department to try and impose our judgment on the people who are so heavily invested in the community without clear direction as to what they want from us," she said.

"While we believe that action is urgent, it is critical for us to not make a decision prematurely. It is evident that the community is just now coming to understand the magnitude of their responsibility and the imperative for immediate change."

Teachers' Union President Andrea Flinders said teachers are working hard.

"I'm a little offended people that the Kansas City School District is just not doing anything. We are educating children. Can we improve? Absolutely. But what we need is stability," Flinders said.

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