The Missouri Board of Education voted Tuesday to revoke the accreditation of the Kansas City School District, effective Jan. 1, because it failed to reach state performance standards.
It's the second time in 11 years that the district has lost accreditation, an embarrassing blow to a beleaguered district that again is trying to find a superintendent.
Board members blamed poor test scores; the district met only three of the 14 standards in the state's annual performance report, down from four in 2010.
The Jan. 1 deadline allows the school board, lawmakers and educators time to come up with a plan to improve and regain accreditation before it could face state takeover, Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro told NBC News affiliate KSHB-TV in Kansas City.
“While we are disappointed with this decision, we understand the basis upon which it was made,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green told ABC News. “Student achievement remains our top priority and we will couple with this, a focus on restoration and recovery of our accreditation status.”
The state previously has intervened in the Wellston School District in suburban St. Louis and in St. Louis public schools. The Kansas School District also lost its accreditation in 2000, but it was able to make improvements to avoid a takeover. It has held provisional accreditation since 2002.
The soonest the state could take over the Kansas City district would be June 30, 2014. The state board then could appoint a special administrative board to govern the district, merge Kansas City with another nearby district or split the district into several new school systems. For example, St. Louis schools have been run by a board with one member appointed by the governor, one selected by the city's mayor and one chosen by the president of the city's Board of Aldermen.
The move by state education officials comes less than a month after John Covington abruptly resigned as the Kansas City superintendent to take a job leading a Michigan agency overseeing that state's poorest-performing schools. While in Kansas City, Covington oversaw the closure of nearly half the schools in the district, whose enrollment has shrunk to about 17,000 from a peak of 75,000 in the late 1960s.
Parents, like Dana Cutler of Kansas City, were filled with questions and confusion Tuesday,
Said Cutler: "Kids who are graduating in May ... what will they be facing? How does that affect their future and their possibilities, their hopes?"
One board member told KSHB that the status change will not take away the validity of a student's education or diploma or ability to qualify for college. The board member said colleges focus more on ACT and SAT scores and a student's grade-point average, not a district's accreditation.
One thing that would change is a parent's ability to move a child out of the district, which has nearly 17,400 students.
State law allows families living in an unaccredited district to attend neighboring school districts or move a child to districts in neighboring counties. That could be devastating to the Kansas City district.
School board members have said in the past they worry of a mass exodus of students, which could mean the shuttering the district.
If the district is unable to gain accreditation, parents are able to transfer a child to any school district within Jackson County or go to Clay, Platte or Cass counties.
The financial burden would be on Kansas City's school district.
Current law places the burden of transportation costs on the unaccredited district and requires it to transfer tuition to the new district.
'It tears you apart'
The district's interim superintendent, R. Stephen Green, is the 27th superintendent in Kansas City since 1969. Green most recently served as president and CEO of Kauffman Scholars Inc. The program provides intensive tutoring and life-skills to Kansas City-area youths from middle school through college.
Stan Archie, a state education board member from Kansas City, said he hopes for improvement in the district and that the loss of accreditation could help to boost the resources and attention paid to its schools.
"It tears you apart to do something that you think is going to remanufacture the district and restructure it in a way — that at least in the preliminary stages — is going to create some challenges," Archie said.
Before state education officials met Tuesday, the district announced it would hold town hall meetings Wednesday and Thursday for officials to explain the effect of the accreditation decision. In a document about the accreditation process posted on the district's website before the state board meeting, the district said local officials would continue working to implement a plan for improving the education of students.
The board also evaluated accreditation of 17 other school districts Tuesday. No other district lost accreditation.
Amy Hawley from NBC News affiliate KSHB-TV contributed to this report, as did The Associated Press.