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Kansas City Public Schools Faces Lawsuit From Suburban Districts Over Transfers

First Posted: 12/28/2011 1:39 pm Updated: 02/27/2012 5:12 am

Five suburban school districts have filed suit to stop student transfers from Kansas City Public Schools to their districts until various issues like costs and student eligibility are resolved.

Missouri education officials revoked the accreditation of Kansas City Schools in September, effective Jan. 1, after the district failed for years to meet state performance standards. According to Missouri state law, students are permitted to transfer from an unaccredited school district to a neighboring accredited district.

The school districts of Blue Springs, Independence, Lee's Summit, North Kansas City and Raytown are willing to accept students from KCPS, but will only do so after a resolution is determined over the KCPS transfer policy that they say violates state law, according to The Kansas City Star. They seek an injunction to halt any transfers until the courts, state education department and state lawmakers clarify all issues laid out in the suit.

"The petition is designed as an interim measure until the overarching issues surrounding the future of KCPS can be resolved," according to a statement from the districts, KCTV reports. "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."

The Kansas City board of education earlier this month determined that districts receiving KCPS students must provide transportation, without stating that KCPS would pay tuition determined by the receiving district, according to court documents. The suburban districts contend that under state law, KCPS is responsible for the cost of both transportation and tuition, at the determination of the receiving district.

"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," the lawsuit reads. "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."

According to a 1993 amendment to the state law, accredited schools must accept student transfers from a neighboring unaccredited system if that district provides both transportation and pays tuition determined by the receiving district, KMBC reports.

KCPS offered to pay for transportation to the three closer districts, but couldn't afford to pay for others that are further away. KCPS also said earlier this month that students are only eligible for transfers from the system if they attended a Kansas City Public School for two full semesters, according to KCTV. The suburban districts content in the lawsuit that it is against the law to require a specific length of time required of a student in KCPS prior to transfer eligibility.

"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," Kansas City Schools officials said in a statement Tuesday. "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."

Kansas City's school have for years stood on volatile ground as the district saw heavy turnover -- the 50,000-student district had six superintendents between 1999 and 2011 -- and now has more than two years to regain accreditation before it could face state takeover in 2014.

The district's last superintendent, John Covington, left abruptly in August to head Michigan's Education Achievement System, a plan to transform low-performing schools piloting in Detroit. Covington's Chief of Staff Chace Ramey was named interim superintendent in Kansas City.

Amid the lawsuit and accreditation issues, KCPS is looking for ways to repurpose eight more closed schools as the district's number of shuttered and unused schools increased to 38 last year, the Associated Press reports.

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Filed by Emmeline Zhao  |