Five suburban school districts have sued over plans to accept student transfers from the unaccredited Kansas City School District.
The districts are asking a Jackson County judge to determine the tuition and transportation costs that the five districts must receive from the Kansas City School District for accepting their students. They want the Kansas City School District's transfer policy declared unconstitutional.
The districts say they expect "a significant number" of Kansas City School District students will seek to transfer from the unaccredited district.
"We don't know for sure how many kids we are talking about, which really makes this issue complex," said Independence School District Superintendent Jim Hinson. "We have had contact from several hundred families."
The Missouri Board of Education voted unanimously in September to strip the Kansas City School District of its accreditation status effective Sunday. Under state law, students may transfer from the unaccredited district to an adjacent district that is accredited.
The Blue Springs, Independence, Lee's Summit, North Kansas City and Raytown districts filed the lawsuit Friday. The lawsuit was announced Monday morning.
Officials with the Kansas City School District issued a statement Tuesday morning. The district said the court action is no surprise considering the uncertainty of the state law.
"We are all caught between an effort to comply with the law on the one hand and the pressure of a timeline to implement our own reasonable interpretation of the law on the other hand," the statement said. "However, the most important variable, the educational disruption to the families and students must not be overlooked. Careful thought and planning are needed prior to the implementation of such a complex process."
Any decision made by a Jackson County judge almost certainly would be appealed directly to the Missouri Supreme Court. That court in July issued a ruling stating that an unaccredited school district must pay tuition for students transferring to an accredited school district.
A tuition amount was not included. The state's highest court also placed no restrictions on which students could transfer.
But the Kansas City district earlier this month said that only students who have attended a Kansas City public school for two full semesters could transfer.
The Kansas City district also said it only would pay transportation costs to transport students to the North Kansas City, Independence, Center and Raytown school districts. The district said it cannot afford to pay for transportation to other Missouri districts, which would be further away.
The lawsuit says state law requires the Kansas City district to pay transportation costs to any district in the same county or an adjoining county. The district's policy would hurt districts such as Lee's Summit and Blue Springs, according to the lawsuit. Center School District is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Friday.
The lawsuit says it is illegal to specify a length of time for a student to attend a Kansas City public school before being eligible to transfer. The suburban districts say thousands of students could not transfer if the two semester restriction is enforced.
The Kansas City district is only willing to pay about $3,733 per student. Center School District wants up to $15,329 from the Kansas City School District for each student. Raytown wants $10,600. The North Kansas City School District wants $9,508 while Independence wants $8,895.
Hinson said the courts need to bring some stability and "common sense" answers to this complex issue. He said he hopes the judge will hold a hearing this week and rule before classes resume.
"Kids and parents need to know what to do when they return to school after the holidays and where they might be able to return to school," Hinson said. "Give us direction on the legality of the issue and what we are really suppose to do as a school district."
The Kansas City School District came under scathing criticism in the lawsuit for its ability to pay its bills on a timely basis.
According to the lawsuit, the Kansas City district is only willing to pay tuition costs on a "pay as you go" monthly basis rather than pay the entire tuition in full upfront.
"Unfortunately, in the past when KCPS has been indebted to the accredited districts for various reasons, KCPS has routinely failed to pay its debts when due, and it is often 90 to 120 days behind in payment," according to the lawsuit. "The Missouri General Assembly is considering proposed legislation that will dissolve KCPS and redistrict Kansas City, Missouri. If the proposed legislation is adopted, KCPS may not be a viable entity able to repay the debts incurred for transportation or tuition."
Without the funding, the suburban districts cannot provide the needed facilities, staff, teachers, transportation and supplies to accommodate the extra students, according to the lawsuit.
"The petitioners will suffer financial challenges and strain as they attempt to meet the needs of their current students and simultaneously provide teachers, space and educational supplies for the additional students," according to the lawsuit. "Moreover, the accredited districts may face suit from their own taxpayers who could claim that the accredited districts are impermissibly using local funds to educate non-resident students."
The five districts are asking for an injunction to bar implementation of any transfers until the courts, the state education agency and state legislature figure out the future of the Kansas City School District and the legality of the transfer policy. They say this will also prevent uncertainty with students' education being interrupted mid-semester over transfers that are later found to be illegal.
"The petition is designed as an interim measure until the overarching issues surrounding the future of KCPS can be resolved," according to a news release from the districts. "By taking this action collectively, the five districts hope to prevent the disruption of KCPS students' education in the middle of the academic year as well as provide time for a lasting and positive educational solution to be determined that will ultimately benefit all students."
To read previous coverage over this issue including the five districts' statements, click here. To read the state education agency's guidance on this issue to parents, click here.
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