Coup d\’état

Last November we wrote about what we believed was an odd decision by UCM sponsored charter school Académie Lafayette. The item was apparently offbeat enough that one commenter noted “I can’t tell when you’re being serious or writing satire anymore.”

We were serious, as this typically belated Star article confirmed. What the Star item did not note, however, is Académie Lafayette’s board was only interested in a foreign language high school partnership with KCSD because that was Superintendent Covington’s price for even talking about selling/leasing an unused KCSD building to AL.

And that’s what AL board President Dave Cozad and VP Michael Zeller have expressed to their board, teachers, staff and concerned parents over the last few months.

So imagine everyone’s surprise when WNBTv received over 20 e-mails from Académie Lafayette folk this past week. Each and every letter expressed a good amount of annoyance at the antics of their board, and a distinct amount of…moral revulsion is how we’ve decided to phrase it…over the treatment of one AL board member during last Monday’s meeting.

It seems during an otherwise plain-vanilla AL school board meeting the subject of going on record as to creating a committee to look into some sort of partnership with the KCSD on a possible joint AL/KCSD international language excellent adventure high school was introduced. (The actual language should be here by now.) From the e-mails we’ve read there was initially a stunned silence (probably among the board members themselves as we understand few, if any, parents bothered to show up.)

After said silence, one board member voiced her opposition to codifying what was not, after all, the board’s primary purpose: e.g., to lead/direct the current K-8 charter school known as Académie Lafayette. The board member -named in at least 5 different emails as Pam Gard- continued her objections, even mentioning that the idea (at this time) seemed to present a conflict of interest as 2 of the board members – Cozad and Zeller – have children in AL that would most likely directly benefit from such a (proposed) partnership. Mrs. Gard went on with her objections and was then tentatively joined by a couple of other board members in her skepticism.

Cozad and Zeller apparently nodded up and down in the right places and (distractedly) responded to their fellow board members, but pooled the preponderance of their concentration into talking to one another in their effort to fine-tune said proposed resolution; occasionally reading it back to each other, editing again, reading again, and pretty much ignoring or dismissing out of hand every other board members’ concern. When C&Z were satisfied with what they had wrought, Z found it fine and made the motion to accept.

A new  -as in his 2nd board meeting new-  board member seconded the motion, which was quickly passed: 4 ayes and 1 (Mrs. Gard) abstention.

(If the above sounds high-handed, it’s only as it was described to me, over and over: a pronouncement.)

All in all, as baldly ugly a power play as you’ll see outside of a NHL practice. Though to be fair, such behavior is not unheard of; most boards are really run by 1 or 2 people who firmly believe they, and only they, know what’s best for the school/company/city/nation/world, fellow board members/parents/teachers/employees/citizens be damned. What is interesting about this particular schoolyard bullying is context.

Absent the board meeting last Monday was Harriet Meyers, perhaps the heart of the AL board, as well as its most politically connected member. And just a meeting prior, long-time board member Jane Alley stepped down. Both ladies have in the past joined Mrs. Gard in arguing against predicating the lease/purchase of another building on any possible KCSD partnership, potential international high school involvement or not.

Had Zeller’s motion been tried even a month earlier, what appears a relatively unanimous board agreement would have, at best, been a contentious split decision and quite possibly have even failed.

Again, this is not that unusual a strategy: to make it apparent a board member’s wishes will be ignored to the point they resign. 1 To schedule meetings when allies are thick and dissenters thin is tried and true corporate board room behavior in America since forever.

But again…context.

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Last night we heard from Our Friend.2

OF had just attended a KCSD board meeting. You can read what the Star considered the highlights of that event here. However, what OF found enlightening did not get any play in KC’s Paper of Record.

Shannon Jaax, hired by the KCSD to PM the building repurposing project, had just limned 8 bullet points on the draft building repurposing policy she was presenting to the board for their consideration, when without preamble or warning, and totally unprovoked, Dr. Covington channeled an old Baptist minister, raised his voice on high and preached to the minusculey assembled choir:

“But those (charter and contract schools) who seem to be friends, but are foes; who come to us in ‘partnership’ only because they wish a building, I say, and this board says, NO! Yesterday, today and tomorrow.NO!” 3

“And those schools that want to partner with us, that believe in what the board and district are doing, we’ll be happy to partner, we’ll be happy to hold your charters.” 4

Well, according to OF this sort of negated anything the AL board had in mind; Covington had just publicly shot down any offer AL might make. Moreover, the charter issue had been a HUGE bone of contention at AL board meetings – why would AL want to turn over their charter to KCSD?

On top of Covington’s broadside it turns out, according to preliminary research done by a sub-committee of the KCSD board they can’t legally lease or sell many of their unused buildings for the next 3 years; none of the elementary buildings (including, one would hazard to guess, Longan Elementary, the one Academie Lafayette desires) and only 7 of the secondary buildings, all due to the unretired bonds still tethering them to KCSD.

And while Shannon Jaax mentioned it might possibly, if the moon phase were correct and the right lawyers were hired gods sacrificed to, then  -and only after the community at large has had its say (and then been rebutted or ignored by the KCSD)- maybe, just maybe, some 1 year leases would be possible. On some unspecified buildings.

Just, you know, not to our foes.

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It appears that OF’s school board has spent the better part of a year in unseemly machinations (best left to those ‘worthies’ running Wall Street) in an effort to gain what KCSD Superintendent publicly claims he has no desire to ever let loose.

Moreover it appears, Dr. Covington’s inclinations aside, it would be illegal for KCSD to do so. About the only way Académie Lafayette occupies Longan is to cede its charter to the KCSD.

That about sum it up?

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OF noted that Covington also mentioned the 30 Years’ History KCSD has had with both charter/contract schools and other school districts. We disremember OF’s exact words, but it went along the lines of ‘…everyone else had best just drop those feelings and deal with us now, not what we had been.’ KCSD board member Crispin Rea responded that he was disappointed in Covington’s attitude; given the nature of the board’s long and often contentious relationship with the community Rea had expected a more “nuanced” response from the Superintendent.

OF said Covington made no response to Rea; he just smiled and rocked in his chair for the rest of that particular discussion.

Which is sad because part and parcel with the new Superintendent and board is the 1 reported rape and 14 sexual assaults that occurred at Southwest High last school year. As are the constant arson and police calls to the same school. As are….well, you probably saw the same news spot I did, right? Parts of Brookside surrounding Southwest are beside themselves at KCSD’s mismanagement of its “right sizing” program and the attendant chaos.

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That KCSD is nearly moribund is hardly new.

That Dr. Covington and the board should be given at least another year to revive the district is also right. That the city  -in terms of the project Funk initiated to upgrade the infrastructure, to clean and more closely patrol the neighborhoods surrounding schools- should vigorously assist is also a given.

But it will take more than just the above to turn the district around. And Covington’s expressed attitude of “take us or leave us; you’re either our friend or our foe” simply won’t get the job done. Not only is it arrogantly disingenuous in its demand for solitude, it’s dismissive -in this particular case- of at least one school that easily meets or far outstrips every educational criteria that similar KCSD schools have a hard time measuring halfway up to. It’s the same old cry of ‘my way or the highway’ that has caged 30 years’ worth of prior boards and Superintendents. It is the ultimate voice of defeat.

If it were our kids’ school that was thinking of going into business with the KCSD?

We would rally every parent possible to impress upon our board, each and every meeting, even in between meetings, that while intentions are good things, track records speak for themselves. We would loudly and continually urge our board to find another way, to expand their current building, to lease from the public sector, to lease from a church, to pair enrolment, to cut expenses, whatever it took, to do everything and most anything they could to continue their success…without being drawn into the mire that still is the KCSD. 5

In fact, we would be surprised if the AL board has not already had that (informal) discussion. We’re just in doubt of the outcome.

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Show 5 footnotes

  1. Though we do not state that as fact, merely our logical supposition given what we do know.
  2. Let’s address that little issue now, shall we? Shortly after we posted our November item, Our Friend received a phone call from one of the AL board members asking if he had any influence with Ours Truly; the board member thought our post premature and wanted it removed lest it jinx AL’s chances of at leasing a building from the KCSD. OF then spent 30 minutes calling all the friends he figured might run a blog, asking that they yank the post. Meanwhile yet another board member had e-mailed us direct, with the same polite request. Eventually OF got around to calling us; we pooh-poohed the idea, but the post came down in a reasonable amount of time. OF has since stated that while he occasionally finds some of the AL boards’ decisions suspect, if not downright suicidal, he is content to air his feelings at the actual meetings. He then added if we want to know details about future meetings, we should show up ourselves. But, back to last night.
  3. Covington did not get an “Amen!”, just the most sustained and vigorous applause of the evening. Nor was he done.
  4. Look for the exact quotes in the KCSD meeting minutes…or not. So far nothing has been posted on their site.
  5. We dislike unwarranted cynicism as much as anyone else, but  honestly ask yourself: just how long do you think Covington will stay before a.) the school board dismisses him, or b.) he leaves for another school district? Seriously, he talks a good game and seems to have the requisite administrative tool set, but at point did that save the last 14 KCSD Superintendents?

16 thoughts on “Coup d\’état”

  1. Academie Lafayette has had several parent forums on this and each time the majority of parents wanted nothing to do with kansas city schools. why dons’t the board go back to the original plan of expanding our current building? if we did that and continued the lease on wornall we would be fine. as it is they’ve wasted a year on this nonsense

  2. I’m sure this will be brought up at next month’s board meeting. I don’t know the date but it should be on the school’s site. It’s just so frsutrating for parents who have listend to the board when they knew the best idea was to build on what we already have. what in the world were they thinking the kansas city schools would do for us? I’m emailing this site to several other mom’s who have said the same hting before. let us know if you hear more, thanks.

  3. looking back through the Star all i see are rah rah articles about how well kcsd is doing. which is crap. why don’t they follow these other stories. why don’t they follow other chools at all actually?

  4. has anyone evr stopped and consdered what a mixed ‘international’ high school might be like? doesn’t anyone think it might be a LOT like southwest, with lafayette kidz getting the short end of the stick?

  5. We just picked up trash bags at the school and talked to another couple of moms. Word about this is slow getting out but no one’s happy. we could have been almost done with an extension to our school already!

  6. To set the record straight, here is the excerpt from the board meeting minutes on the motion regarding the high school, verbatim.

    “Motion
    Mike Zeller made the motion as follows: The Academie Lafayette board desires to provide its graduates with an opportunity to pursue advanced language studies at the high school level. Therefore, this board is establishing a task force to explore and present options for developing a new international focused high school with advanced language studies. Seconded by Rhody Harris.

    Discussion and vote.

    5 Board members in favor
    1 abstention”

    That’s it. So what the board did is clearly not anything like what is described here in this blog. There is nothing in the board’s motion one way or another about the KCMO School District. Also – regarding space for the K-8 program – building an addition to Oak Street IS planned. But the addition alone will not be anywhere close to the space A.L. needs. Hence our efforts in addition to the expansion to obtain and put back into use one of the many vacant school buildings all over the city. FYI, we had the lottery last week for kindergarten, and drew from 120 names for 60 slots. For anyone already in the school who questions the desire of the board to serve more families, I ask you to consider the dozens of heartbroken families who got letters this week that they are on a long waiting list. I invite and urge anyone who wants to comment on any of these issues to come to a board meeting and speak up. Or contact me and let’s talk in person. I am all for freedom of expression and open debate. But anonymous web gossip with inaccurate facts is directly harmful to the school and thus the children it serves. IF you care about the school, get your facts right before you publish something for the world to see. And don’t hide behind a pseudonym.

  7. The motion was linked in his post – where’s the inacurate info? Obviously you don’t like his opinion here, just as he doesn’t like the board’s direction in this regard. And as an AL parent who has attented many of the board meetings on this particular subject, I’ve found his opinion dead on – we know you’ve been talking to KCSD, we know KCSD wants AL to go in on a high school with the AL. You told us so. Many of us have told you we want nothing to do with KCSD. And yet you apparently keep going forward.

  8. I don’t think I understand Dave’s point. The motion was clearly linked and Nick was also being snarky but other than that no one has said the facts were wrong right? Or was Acadamy Lafayette NOT looking to get a new building from KC? I thought that was pretty well established.

    1. (This has languished in our e-mail account since Monday while we traveled for work.)

      The motion was to establish a task force explore all options about high school. Only one of which is working with KCMSD. There are numerous other options, and all are to be explored by the task force set up through the motion: expanding existing charter to make it K-12, starting a new charter high school with UCM as sponsor, starting a new charter high school with someone else as a sponsor (U of Missouri, UMKC, or KCMSD), or starting a contract school (a opposed to charter school). As everything like, this, there are pros and cons with each approach. Which is why we set up a task force to explore options and alternatives to report back to the board. So the inaccuracy is that the blog jumps to the idea that the only idea for a high school being considered is working with KCMSD. Not so.

      Dave Cozad

  9. My wife makes a lot of board meetings and has never heard the board talk about partnerships with any other school district. Doesn’t mean it’s not in the works but you know.

  10. A neighbor’s kid attends University Academy, another charter school situated in the same nieghborhood. From talking to the parents that school is geared toward urban youth and have the highest graduation rates in the city. They also put most of their kids into college. In other words, they take the exact same demographic that the KCSD does such a poor job educating and actually teach effictively. I asked teh neighbors if University Academy had any kind of partnership with the KCSD and they just laughed, said University Academy wanted nothing to do with KCSD. Heavy empahsis on the NOTHING. That ought to say something, don’t you think?

  11. Anne – student demographics at AL are very different from the KCMO district. The majority of AL students come from middle class, college educated families in Brookside/Waldo/Volker who are highly involved and care deeply about public education ideals. ALs success in attracting these families is a big reason why it is successful. The KCMO district is hoping that the new Hale Cook school with its “no bussing” mantra (no poor minorities) will compete with AL. Meanwhile, poor students continue to get the shaft when Covington puts politics ahead of doing what’s best for kids.

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