Kansas City Mayor Sly James announced Thursday that he is reluctantly calling for him to oversee the operations of the Kansas City School District.
James has spent a month working with civic leaders, elected officials, educators and stakeholders to look at ways to overhaul the district. He said he and the group concluded that governance by the mayor's office is the best solution for the district's future.
Kansas City School board member Arthur Benson told reporters Thursday afternoon that the local board opposes a mayoral takeover.
James wrote Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro about the recommendation in a letter released on the mayor's new website Thursday afternoon. James was out of state when the letter was issued on his behalf just after 1 p.m. Thursday.
Click here to read the letter.
To read about Friday's developments, click here.
"I did not ask for this responsibility, but I will not shy away from it if this group, a cross section of our entire community, believes it is in the best interests of our children," Nicastro said. "My objective is to raise student achievement in the KCMSD. Indeed, I am willing to play any role (or none) in order to achieve the single most important goal of ensuring academic achievement for the children of this city."
James said the Missouri Board of Education must address the governance of the district but called on the state board to delay a decision until March 1. He said he would want the mayoral takeover to be effective July 1 and be approved by the Missouri General Assembly.
James said he would select a chief executive officer to run the district along with a chief academic officer and chief business officer.
"Under this model, the mayor would lead an administrative team of three professionals, all of whom possess a unique skill set, to carry out school district operations," James said in the more than four-page letter.
The mayoral takeover would be effective until March 1, 2019, when the state would reconsider the matter.
The state board voted in September to strip the district of its accreditation, effective Jan. 1, because the district has obtained just three of 14 standards. The district needs to obtain five by June 30, 2014, to stave off a state takeover.
The state board is meeting in Branson Thursday and Friday and will discuss tomorrow the district's future.
Nicastro refused comment during a break in Thursday's board meeting about James' letter.
"This is the summation of serious, concentrated and difficult discussions amongst a group whose sole focus was improving the education of the students of the Kansas City School District," James said. "The proposal is a starting point, not an ending point. It does, however, propose a bold and significant change that I, and others in the community, believe is necessary to serve the students and save the district. I, nor do any of the 30-plus community members who worked on this plan, take what is proposed lightly. I look forward to hearing the communities' feedback."
Interim Superintendent Stephen Green was in attendance at the Urban League of Kansas City's Difference Makers Luncheon when James' announcement was made. Some African-American leaders who have called for the elected board to step aside gave James' announcement a cool reception.
In a statement issued later Thursday, Green said he is pleased that James is supporting the school district.
"If such a proposal were put in place, we would work within this new design as steadfastly as we are working with the current governance structure," he said. "The bottom line is to ensure teaching and learning continues at an optimal level. Our commitment to our KCPS students exceeds any concerns or preference for a particular governance structure."
Missouri Rep. Jason Holsman, a Democrat from Kansas City who served on James' advisory panel, said he believes the plan will get a positive reaction from lawmakers.
"It's drastic enough to where we feel like the senators and representatives who want to see something drastic done will understand that this is a significant change," Holsman said. "It also still empowers the local aspect of having someone here, not the state, but someone here that's accountable and responsible for the district and parents."
Click here to read how Interim Superintendent Stephen Green is focused on student achievement and not the political wrangling.
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