JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri education officials revoked the accreditation of the Kansas City School District on Tuesday after it failed for several years to meet most of the state's academic performance standards, an embarrassing blow to the beleaguered district that is also trying to find a new superintendent.
The decision by the Missouri State Board of Education means the district has more than two years to improve and regain accreditation before it could face state takeover. The decision was approved without dissent and is effective Jan. 1.
The state previously has intervened in the Wellston School District in suburban St. Louis and in St. Louis public schools. The Kansas School District also lost its accreditation in 2000, but it made improvements to avoid a takeover. It has held provisional accreditation since 2002.
The soonest the state could take over the Kansas City district would be June 30, 2014. The state board then could appoint a special administrative board to govern the district, merge Kansas City with a nearby district or split the district into several new school systems.
State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro noted there have been concerns about Kansas City schools for years. She said the state agency would be active in working with local officials to turn around the district and that she would present a proposal to the Board of Education in December.
"We've not seen an improvement in performance, and we believe this is really the only recourse that we have," Nicastro said.
Kansas City school officials said during a news conference after the vote that the decision is a setback, but they shrugged off its impact for students. Acting School Board President Derek Richey Green said it would not affect students when they apply for college because the district remains accredited by the North Central Association.
The district's interim superintendent, R. Stephen Green, said community involvement would be important in regaining accreditation.
"While we are disappointed in the decision, we understand the basis on which it was made," Green said.
The district met just three of the state's 14 performance standards – those covering advanced courses, career education courses and career education placement. It failed to meet standards in areas such as math and communication arts, graduation rates and college placement.
Provisional accreditation calls for school districts to meet at least six performance standards and full accreditation calls for meeting nine standards.
The move by state education officials comes less than a month after John Covington abruptly resigned as the Kansas City superintendent to take a job leading a Michigan agency overseeing that state's poorest-performing schools. While in Kansas City, Covington oversaw the closure of nearly half the schools in the district, whose enrollment has shrunk to about 17,000 from a peak of 75,000 in the late 1960s.
Nicastro said that leadership change was not part of the recommendation about the district's accreditation. However, she said leadership instability over the years has been an issue.
Green, the 27th superintendent in Kansas City since 1969, most recently served as president and CEO of Kauffman Scholars Inc. The program provides tutoring and life skills to Kansas City-area youths from middle school through college.
Stan Archie, a state education board member from Kansas City, said he hopes for improvement in the district and that the loss of accreditation could help boost the resources and attention paid to its schools.
"It tears you apart to do something that you think is going to remanufacture the district and restructure it in a way that will – at least in the preliminary stages – is going to create some challenges," Archie said.
Andrea Flinders, president of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers and School-Related Personnel, called the board's decision disappointing.
"We've got great teachers and staff in our schools. I think we have to continue to do what they're doing and that's taking care of kids," Flinders said.
Missouri law allows students in an unaccredited school district to transfer to one nearby if it will accept the transfer student. The Kansas City district could have to pick up the costs for tuition and transportation.
The state Board of Education also evaluated accreditation of 17 other school districts Tuesday. No other district lost accreditation.
Associated Press writer Bill Draper contributed to this report from Kansas City, Mo.