In a heated two-hour debate, the Kansas City Public Schools Board of Education voted Wednesday night to get into the charter school business.
The vote was the next step in the process for a partnership between KCPS and the Urban Neighborhood Initiative (UNI).
The proposed charter would be called the Kansas City Neighborhood Academy and, according to the application made to the state, would "center on literacy and language acquisition and boasts a STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics) theme, comprehensive professional development, intensive activities and a longer school day and year."
Eventually, the charter school would serve about 500 students from east Kansas City.
The vote was 5 to 3. Opponents on the board, as well as many in the audience, were worried that district leaders would be distracted at a time when KCPS was pressing for full accreditation from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"I'm concerned about diverting resources while our own children are in need," board member Amy Hartsfield said.
Board of Education Chair Jon Hile says he's sure administrators will be able to both improve district schools and work on a partnership he says is innovative and the first chance the district has had to work with a community partner. Still, Hile says, how the district spends its time and money must be closely watched.
"Obviously, the district, in choosing to take this on, needs to be very diligent about our allocation of resources," Hile said. "This type of work can not impact in a negative way the work going on at our existing schools."
The board members who voted against the proposal also said they were worried about how much money Kansas City Neighborhood Academy would cost, whether union teaches would be hired and a lack of transparency as the plan came together.
Board policy says parents must be consulted on any significant change in the education experience 45 days before the board votes. There was sharp disagreement on whether the policy was followed.
Jamekia Kendrix, who has two students in the district, says had the district spent more time talking to parents the plan would have had more support.
"My suspicion is that most of the parents or families who are currently in Kansas City Public Schools had they been given the information would have been in support of it," Kendrix says.
But Kendrix is worried about taking resources away from students already in KCPS.
"I think we have to first focus on the families who have already entrusted us with their education," Kendrix says. "I think we have to make sure that when we approve charter sponsorships it doesn't have a negative impact on our existing schools and families."
The Urban Neighborhood Initiative envisions the school as an anchor that will improve the area surrounding it.
The proposed school "is designed to help break the cycle of poverty for its lowest income students and will be supported by numerous wrap-around services to further support the children and families," according to the the charter application to DESE.
KCPS would be the first school district in Missouri to be a charter school sponsor.
The application must be to the state by Oct. 1 with state Board of Education action anticipated by November.
The KCPS board has one more chance to say no to the charter partnership. District administrations say a contract between the district and UNI should be done by December or January. The school board must approve the contract to move forward with the school which is slated to open for the 2016-2017 school year.