Judge issues split decision in Kansas City student transfer case - KCTV5

Judge issues split decision in Kansas City schools student transfer case

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A Jackson County judge has ruled in favor of the Kansas City School District involving student transfers from the unaccredited district.

In a 24-page ruling, the judge said the district's policies and procedures involving the amount and timing do not violate state law.

Judge Brent Powell said transfers to the Blue Springs and Raytown school districts do not violate the state constitution and would not cause an undue financial burden to those two districts.

However, the state ruled that transfers to the Independence, Lee's Summit and North Kansas City school districts would pose an undue financial burden. The dispute involves how much Kansas City would have to pay for each student who transfers.

About 2,400 students are estimated as wanting to transfer to Blue Springs or Raytown. About 5,000 were estimated to have wanted to go to Independence, Lee's Summit or North Kansas City.

Powell also said that the Kansas City School District may not be able to afford the costs of paying districts for transfer costs. The district has a history of not paying its bills and the suburban districts wanted the tuition costs paid up front.

But the judge ruled the Kansas City School District only needs to pay monthly. Millions of dollars are at stake.

"The court cautions school districts affected Section 167.131 and parents and students interested in transferring to KCPS that many of the issues associated with the transfer of students pursuant to Section 167.131 remain unresolved," according to the ruling. "This court's ruling will undoubtedly be appealed. Considering the myriad of evidentiary and legal issues involved in this opinion, the court's ruling could very likely be reversed and/or significantly altered."

Powell went on to write that the student transfer costs will change annually and more students could transfer to Blue Springs and Raytown because of his ruling.

"In addition, the evidence, which supports the court's ruling, could very likely be reversed and/or significantly altered," the judge wrote. "Therefore, additional Hancock Amendment challenges could be brought by KCPS and school districts that enroll students residing in KCPS pursuant to Section 167.131."

Independence Superintendent Jim Hinson said he was pleased with the judge's ruling. He said the districts believed student transfers would create an unfunded mandate, which violates the state's Hancock law.

"We thought we'd really presented our case effectively," Hinson said. "The judge for us reaffirmed the decision that we thought he would make based on the facts."

Officials with the Blue Springs and Raytown districts disagree with the ruling.

"The judge by the court was largely based on the lower per pupil costs in the Blue Springs School District compared to the other suburban school districts involved in the lawsuit," the statement said. "Ironically, trying to be the best stewards of our local taxpayer dollars was found to be a detriment given the court's rationale in this case."

Raytown district officials said they were saddened by the judge's ruling.

"We will follow board policy and not admit any students from an unaccredited school district without tuition paid in full," the district said.

Some Raytown and Blue Springs parents are alarmed that an influx of Kansas City School District students could increase class sizes and create other issues. 

"I wanted my kids to go to school out here for a reason," said Myesha Brown, a Blue Springs parent. "It's going to interfere with the one-on-one teaching ability that the other students have been able to have."

In a statement, Kansas City School District officials said the courts will have to answer some questions.

Similar litigation involving the unaccredited St. Louis School District is working its way through the Missouri court system.

Both the Kansas City and St. Louis cases will ultimately be decided by the Missouri Supreme Court.

"The immediate impact is KCPS will not be forced to pay large sums of taxpayer dollars above state funding to neighboring school districts as tuition for students seeking transfers," according to the statement.

Superintendent Stephen Green said the ruling "avoids a tragedy" and stops resources from leaving the district.

"Today's ruling helps clear up some gray areas regarding accreditation transfers but also leaves a cloudy path as KCPS moves forward," Green said. "We anticipate legal challenges to Judge Powell's ruling that will provide further clarity on this issue. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on reaccreditation and student achievement."

The Center School District was initially part of the lawsuit but later withdrew. The Hickman Mills School District also isn't part of the litigation.

University of Missouri at Kansas City law professor Dan Weddle said the decision had few winners.

"I'm not sure it does KCPS a lot of good to have a bunch of students leave the district," he said. "And I'm not sure it does the other districts a lot of good to have a huge influx of students when they're not prepared for them."

KCTV5's Jami Brinton contributed to this report.

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