Calls mount for Nicastro resignation after e-mails released

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Eight Democratic lawyers and a growing number of Kansas City educators are among those calling for Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro to resign after hundreds of e-mails were made public this weekend outlining her plan for essentially rebuilding the Kansas City Public School district from the ground up.

The e-mails show Nicastro and officials from the Hall Family Foundation and Kauffman Foundation working with Kauffman partner CEE-Trust as far back as April to develop a plan for the future of KCPS, should the district fail to regain accreditation.

Obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by the education equality group MORE2 (More Squared), they show a series of meetings, conference calls and even budgetary discussions between Nicastro, foundation backers and CEE-Trust leadership designed to get a process in motion quickly – without going through a typical request for proposal project.

District officials, including KCPS Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green, said they knew nothing of the discussions. A spokesman for Kansas City Mayor Sly James said he, too, was not informed.

The Missouri Board of Education rejected the Memorandum of Understanding drawn up by the group over the summer. But with coaching from Nicastro and her aides, CEE-Trust ultimately submitted a bid and won a contract to study options for the long-struggling district for $385,000.

When the e-mails were first published in the Kansas City Star on Sunday, negative reaction to the back-room dealings came swiftly.  

"The revelations about Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro's nefarious, secret efforts to create a new Kansas City school system by skirting state regulations shows an out-of-control state official," Andrea Flinders of the American Federation of Teachers wrote in a statement released Sunday.

A joint statement from eight state Democratic lawmakers on Monday called for her resignation.

"Given the latest instances of abuse of power by Dr. Chris Nicastro exposed Sunday by The Kansas City Star, it is imperative 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," the group wrote.

More than a dozen educators chanted "Nicastro must go" at a downtown rally Monday evening.

On Monday afternoon, the Board of Education released a statement defending CEE-Trust and its bid process, without naming 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 (KCPS). 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 association - coming forward for the management of failing schools." 

CEE-Trust executive director Ethan Gray told 41 Action News his organization expects to release its report on schedule next January.

"We have spent the past several months studying high-performing urban schools across the country, identifying the conditions that enable their successes, hosting focus groups with teachers, parents, community leaders and other stakeholders in Kansas City and look forward to sharing a draft of our recommendations in January," Gray said. "We think it is important for the community to have a conversation about the future of the schools, and that the conversation is informed by the research and focus groups we have been conducting over the past several months."

Nicastro did not return multiple requests for comment from 41 Action News on Monday.

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