Posted on May 22, 2019

Lee’s Summit Superintendent Threatens to Quit over Board Vote on Racial Equity Plan

Mará Rose Williams, Kansas City Star, May 17, 2019

The controversy over racial equity in Lee’s Summit erupted Thursday night with school board members voting down a second attempt to get training for teachers and staff, and the superintendent saying he now wants out of the district.

After the 4-3 vote that shot down a proposal to spend more than $97,000 to hire a St. Louis firm to train employees in racial equity, diversity and inclusion, Superintendent Dennis Carpenter told board members to settle out his contract and “find somebody this board can trust.”

Board members seemed stunned when a clearly frustrated Carpenter addressed them immediately after their vote.

“I have sat with this district and tried to work with this district,” said Carpenter, the district’s first African American superintendent. “I think if you don’t have a leader you can trust, I think you need to find someone you can trust. … Every piece I put forth in this district to try and assure equity, it was met with opposition.

“I want you all to fulfill my contract,” Carpenter said, referring to a clause that requires the district to buy him out if he is dismissed. “What this district needs to help move it forward is a superintendent it can trust.”

Parents in the audience shouted from the back of the packed board room, calling one board member a racist.

“What kind of message are they sending?” said Lashawn Walker, a parent and president of a community group that has been pushing for the equity training.

“What do they think, children of color are going to stop moving to this district?” Walker said outside the meeting room. “{snip} They are going to run the first African American superintendent out of here. This is bad. They don’t want to say this district is racist. Well this proves it is.”


Newly elected board members Judy Hedrick and Mike Allen, as well as incumbent Kim Fritchie and president Julie Doane, voted against the measure. Doane declined to talk with The Star following the meeting to explain her vote. But during the meeting, after learning that part of the training would deal with white privilege, she said, “I don’t like the word ‘privilege.’” She equated dealing with assumptions made about her because she is blond to racial oppression people of color experience.


Allen said he knew his “no” vote would be seen as a racial vote. “But it is not a racial vote,” he said.

“Yes it was,” someone shouted from the rear of the room. “He is racist.”


Contention in this mostly white and affluent suburban community began early in the school year after Carpenter proposed spending $7,000 to bring in the black-owned Pacific Education Group of California for a series of sessions to address bias and build equity.

Carpenter and other district administrators said the training was vital to address the achievement gap between white students and students of color.


In October, after weeks of heated complaints from parents and the community, the school district backed off from the plan.


After the vote, Carpenter asked the board to remove two items from the agenda: a reorganization plan he is leading and a proposal to spend $650,000 on English literacy resources in elementary school. Carpenter said he didn’t understand how the board could trust a superintendent to implement a $650,000 literacy plan if they did not trust him to lead an equity plan costing less than $100,000.