‘We don’t have the room’

tporter@lsjournal.comJanuary 10, 2014 

David McGehee’s presentation to the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council about the ongoing school transfer issue featured a few laughs, some greater insight and a zinger directed at a high-level Missouri politician.

McGehee spoke during the LSEDC’s quarterly luncheon Jan. 8 at the University of Central Missouri’s Summit Center. The superintendent of the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District made it clear during the presentation that there are better alternatives then the one currently facing school districts all across the state; the loss of accreditation and how it affects districts in the same or adjoining counties.

Reciting numbers pulled from a district-sponsored survey of parents from the unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools, McGehee said more than 2,220 students would select the R-7 district as its choice.

State law, recently upheld in December by the Missouri Supreme Court, stipulates that students from unaccredited school districts are eligible to transfer to any accredited school district in the same or adjoining county. The statute requires that the unaccredited district pay tuition to the accredited district that receives its students as well as all transportation costs associated with the transfer.

“If you think about 2,200 students at roughly an average of $10,000 in tuition, you’re talking about $22 million in tuition that the KCPS would owe the Lee’s Summit school district to educate those students that left their school district and came to ours,” McGehee said. “We think that is a concern; that’s a problem and something that is going to be unsustainable.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have the room for them. We would not be able to accommodate the projected numbers. About 10 percent (or 220) of those students that said they wanted to transfer, we would actually have room for them.”

McGehee is working with superintendents from throughout Missouri to develop a plan that serves as an alternative to transferring students from unaccredited districts to accredited districts. Known as the New Path to Excellence, the plan has been presented to state legislators, superintendents from across the state and Missouri Board of Education members.

According to the R-7 district, the New Path to Excellence has been endorsed by the Missouri Association of School Administrators as a proposal that provides long-term support for students, schools and communities – as opposed to the measures currently required under the student transfer statute. Part of that initiative includes framework that would divide accreditation into four levels – instead of the current three, providing early intervention – with schools being accredited individually, which then would allows students to transfer from an unaccredited school to an accredited school within their own districts.

McGehee said state legislators could address the issue and make changes to the statue that would make the current statue obsolete. He cited the current political climate in Jefferson City as a potential obstacle in making that happen, mentioning deep-pocketed political contributor Rex Sinquefield and Republican Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones by name.

Jones is on record, according to Missourinet.com, stating that he is willing to “negotiate with the education establishment,” and has favored changes on other education issues such as teacher tenure, and doesn’t rule out considering a transfer law change if such things are attached to it. McGehee referred to those concessions as “lint” attached to bills in Jefferson City.

Sinquefield is a St. Louis-based political contributor who, according to The Kansas City Star, gave nearly $1.3 million to various political causes in the closing weeks of 2013, including $750,000 to Teachgreat.org during the final weeks of December.

Teachgreat.org is backing a potential ballot initiative that would end tenure protections for public school teachers and instead make their employment contingent on student achievement.

According to The Star, online records show Sinquefield gave more than $3.8 million total in Missouri political contributions in 2013. He donated $100,000 to Jones in 2012.

“Speaker Jones is bought and paid for by Rex Sinquefield,” McGehee said, adding that other Missouri elected officials have also taken contributions from Sinquefield.

Before they adjourned, the LSEDC passed a resolution to support the district’s efforts with the New Path to Excellence initiative.

“We’re armed and ready to go,” Christine Bushyhead, filling in for EDC board chair Brad Cox, said after the resolution was approved. “We’ll support you.”

 

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