New KCPS Master Plan Makes Room For District-Sponsored Charter School

Feb 10, 2016

Parents from Wendell Phillips Elementary School packed the KCPS Board of Education meeting Wednesday night to oppose a plan to merge their school with Attucks Elementary.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

A modified master plan for Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) consolidates two east side schools and turns over one of the buildings to the district's charter school partner, a plan that packed parents from the targeted school into the board meeting Wednesday night.

The new plan still closes Southwest Early College Campus and moves its students to East High School. It also still closes Satchel Paige Elementary on east 75th Street.

However the revised master plan keeps open Attucks Elementary near 24th and Prospect. Instead, the students and staff from Wendell Phillips Elementary near 24th and Vine will be folded into Attucks.

“What we want to do is take the staff, the students, the community groups, the administration and just relocate them in a different building than they’re currently serving and providing education to kids,” says acting Superintendent Al Tunis.

Tunis says Phillips is accredited by the state and that accreditation will follow students and staff to Attucks.

While that sounds good to some, two dozen parents from Phillips showed up to disagree.

KCPS wants to move students and staff from Wendell Phillips Elementary to Attucks Elementary.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

“Why are we breaking up something that’s working? Phillips is a fully accredited school. Attucks is not. Why break that up?” asked parent Lisa Barner who has a first grader at Phillips. Even though the two buildings are only a few blocks apart, Barner and other Phillips parents say the district should follow its original plan and shut down Attucks. "It’s more to a home than just the building. It’s the heart of it. So I’m afraid by moving them you’re going to move the heart of it.”

The Phillips building, which Tunis says would need $3 million in modernizations, would be turned over to the United Neighborhood Initiative (UNI). Tunis says the charter could use private money to make the needed improvements.

Most in the audience were not charter school fans and suggested the district is more worried about the UNI school than the regular district schools.

Board member Carl Evans says whatever school the board decides to close, that members stand by their decision. “When Attucks parents come down are we going to vacillate?”

UNI will run the charter school the district is sponsoring. The board voted to enter into the partnership with UNI after a heated meeting last August.

The new plan would also create year-round schools for the four lowest performing elementary schools in the district and lower class size over time for all elementary schools in KCPS. The original plan called for year-round schools and lowering class size at those under performing buildings. But after the district held more meeting with parents, students and patrons, the revised plan calls for lower elementary class sizes across the board.

The revised plan also creates what the district is calling "college and career pathways" at its neighborhood high schools. The previous master plan called for themed high schools but after additional meetings the district landed on pathways such as computer science, biomedical science and construction technology.

Exactly what those career pathways will be and what schools will offer them has yet to be worked out. District staff says more meetings with be held with parents and students to determine the details.

The district still plans on drastically changing its transportation program. Currently students have to live a mile and a half away from school to be bused. The new plan calls for that to be reduced to just a half mile.

Total cost for these changes is about $8.1 million, according to the plan. Officials say they can pay for that with the savings the district expects from closing three buildings, selling the downtown headquarters and other efficiencies.

The board took no action Wednesday night. Administration says it wants the board to vote at its next meeting on Feb. 24. The district leadership still says most of these changes can be made before the start of the next school year.

Newly appointed superintendent Mark Bedell has been briefed on all of this and is supportive of the changes, according to Tunis.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.