Democrats, unions want Missouri commissioner to resign because she was planning to fix a failing school district

Dec 17, 2013 by

KANSAS CITY – Whenever some well-intentioned official makes a serious effort to fix a broken public school system – which usually means challenging the status quo and knocking a few heads together – the teachers unions and their Democratic allies cry foul.

It’s happening again in Kansas City, where “eight Democratic lawmakers and a growing number of educators” are calling for Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro to resign or be fired, because she had the nerve to start planning for a possible state takeover of the city’s failing school district.

The simple fact is that the Kansas City school district lost its accreditation status in 2011 because it consistently failed to meet the required number of state academic standards. It lost full accreditation status in 2000, and only managed to gain “provisional accreditation” between 2002 and 2011.

Under Missouri law, a school district is fully accredited if it meets nine of 14 performance standards. Provisional accreditation requires districts to meet six standards. The Kansas City district was meeting just three performance standards in 2011, when its status was revoked.

The state will have the option of taking over the district next June if it fails to dramatically improve its performance.

To plan for that possibility, Nicastro has apparently been working behind the scenes with the non-profit Hall Family Foundation and Kauffman Foundation to devise an academic reconstruction strategy for the district.

According to some media reports, the plan could involve the establishment of a statewide “achievement” school district that would manage any number of failing districts.

As put it, she was starting to make plans for “essentially rebuilding the Kansas City school district from the ground up.” Such a project is clearly necessary. Nicastro should be getting handshakes and kudos for her efforts, rather than condemnation.

Who is really ‘out of control?’

Nicastro was reportedly instrumental in helping CEE-Trust, an organization that partners with the Kauffman Foundation, secure a $385,000 grant to study potential solutions for the district’s many problems.

Her efforts became public after a series of her emails were secured through a freedom on information request, and her behind-the-scenes planning efforts were detailed in a story published last weekend by the Kansas City Star.

Apparently Nicastro had not yet shared the details of her early planning with the mayor or district superintendent, and may have skirted the usual “request for proposals” process before convincing the state Board of Education to approve the grant for CEE-Trust.

Nicastro has allegedly also been in contact with a group circulating petitions to eliminate teacher tenure.

All of the above has enraged the local education establishment.

“Given the latest instances of abuse of power by Dr. Chris Nicastro, exposed Sunday by the Kansas City Star, it is important that she resign immediately as state education commissioner or, if she fails to do so, be removed from her post by the Missouri State Board of Education,” said a joint statement from eight Democratic state lawmakers.

The American Federation of Teachers accused Nicastro of being “an out-of-control” state official.

Geez. They make it seem as if Nicastro had been stealing money from the district, rather than trying to fix it.

The state Board of Education released a statement defending Nicastro.

“The Missouri State Board of Education made the ultimate decision in selecting CEE-Trust after an open and competitive bid process, and CEE-Trust was the clear choice for conducting analyses and making recommendations for transforming Kansas City Public Schools,” the board’s statement said. “It’s important to note that CEE-Trust’s recommendations will be one proposal among several other useful approaches – including a framework from the superintendent’s association – coming forward for the management of failing schools.”

If Nicastro is guilty of anything, it was “doing the public’s business in secret,” as put it. Perhaps she should accept responsibility for not keeping other officials abreast of her activities, and for skirting established RFP policies, if she indeed did so.

But she should not apologize for planning early to help a student population that desperately needs assistance. The people of Missouri should be grateful to have a public official who cares enough to plot a strategy that will result in better education.

We doubt very much that the education establishment really believes Nicastro did anything to deserve termination. We suspect their true objection is that she was devising a plan to dramatically improve Kansas City schools, which might eventually have led to a recommendation to replace many of the current “educators” working in the district.

Public officials who rock the boat are always treated like garbage by the self-serving establishment, even when the boat clearly needs to be rocked.

The real “out-of-control” officials are the incompetent clowns who have been managing and staffing this failure factory of a school district for years. They are the ones who should be thrown out of on their ears. They’ve had their chance, and the district remains consistently unable to deliver quality instruction to children.

The school staff should be answering to the public, not the state official who was only trying to devise a plan to clean up this very ugly mess.

Democrats, unions want Missouri commissioner to resign because she was planning to fix a failing school district – powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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