KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A Jackson County Circuit Court judge says it will be up to voters to decide whether seven schools in the Kansas City School District become part of the Independence district.
If Judge W. Stephen Nixon's ruling stands, the vote will come during a Nov. 6 election.
Nixon made his ruling Tuesday, less than 24 hours after arguments on the issue. The ruling makes permanent a preliminary order issued last month. It was the latest in a series of legislative, procedural and legal wins for residents who are pushing for the schools to be transferred.
If voters decide to move the schools, it would end a debate that has gone on for decades. Many in the Kansas City suburbs of Independence and Sugar Creek have argued in favor of the transfer, saying it would improve their property values and the quality of education for students at those schools.
The Independence district is fully accredited by the state, while Kansas City schools are provisionally accredited, a step between fully accredited and unaccredited. Independence also has better districtwide test scores than Kansas City, according to preliminary data released in August.
Voters in both the Kansas City and Independence districts will be allowed to take part in the election. They will decide the fate of Van Horn High School, Nowlin Middle School and five elementary schools -- Mount Washington, Fairmount, North Rock Creek/Korte, Three Trials and Sugar Creek. The schools, although part of the Kansas City district, are in Independence and Sugar Creek.
The Kansas City Board of Education could appeal Nixon's ruling, said school district attorney Maurice Watson.
Watson said a boundary change that large in Missouri would be unprecedented and there are too many issues that would have to be resolved before the election.
The law, for instance, states that if voters in both districts approved the transfer, the boundaries would change "from that date."
"Are the buildings going to remain open?" Watson asked. "Does Independence have enough surplus staff? How are the students going to be transported? How are they going to pay for the buildings and the property?"
Independence Superintendent Jim Hinson said his district is prepared for the transfer. He said having Independence contract with Kansas City to operate the schools until the transfer is complete is one option.
In June, Gov. Matt Blunt signed a law changing the process for moving school district boundaries. The move makes transfers such as the one being sought in the Kansas City area easier.
A successful petition drive and two state court wins followed.
In court on Monday, the Kansas City district argued against the school transfer effort. District officials raised state constitutional challenges to a recent amendment to the boundary-change statute that state Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence, sponsored.
Callahan included a leaner but similar version of the amendment to the legislation that Blunt signed.
District officials argued that the state statute shouldn't apply in this case because it uses the word "annual" in its language, and the Kansas City district holds elections every two years, not annually.
The statute says that the number of valid signatures needed to petition for a district boundary change must be equal to at least 10 percent of the voters casting ballots "for school board members in the last annual school election."
Nixon determined the reference to "annual" had "no correlation" to the timing of the board elections "except as a reference date for the determination of the number of voters who must petition to have the boundaries change."
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com