So I'm on hold, and a recorded voice is describing the mission of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.
The foundation, I'm learning, strives to improve the quality of life by increasing charitable giving, connecting donors to the needs they care about, and leading on critical community issues.
All very nice.
I decided to call the foundation after Mayor Mark Funkhouser complained that the city's civic leaders had abandoned the Kansas City, Missouri, School District. The mayor wants to hold an education summit to generate ideas and create a sense of common purpose. It's a great idea — but one that several mayors before him have already tried. And those civic leaders he's chastising? They have formed task forces, too, and nothing has ever come of them.
Funkhouser's vision is a little weird. But if everyone before him had done what they said they were going to do, hard feelings about him and his summit needn't have reached the front page of The Kansas City Star, as they did earlier this month.
So with the idea that humiliation is a great motivator, let's name some names.
In an apparent effort to meet its mission of "leading on critical community issues," the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation commissioned a task force in 2005 to study higher education. This "blue ribbon" task force identified two major deficits in the city: the lack of a world-class research university and the dismal educational opportunities for blacks and Latinos.
In the Kansas City, Missouri, School District, four in five students are African-American or Latino. The task force encouraged the foundation to "tackle the leadership issue head-on and convene a strong group of civic leaders to support K-12 education reform."
I called Laura McKnight, the foundation's president and chief executive, in an effort to check up on her tackling skills. That's how I ended up on hold. Eventually, I left a message.
A foundation spokeswoman, Jackie Kindred, returned the call. She said I should talk to Benno Schmidt Jr., who had chaired the task force.
Schmidt is an accomplished fellow. He's a legal scholar and a former president of Yale University. He has even appeared in two Woody Allen movies. He also lives in New York — not exactly a keen vantage point from which to monitor the progress of Kansas City schools.
It sounded as if no one had heeded the call for civic leadership in the task force's reports — Time to Get It Right and its follow-up, Time to Get Things Done. For the K-12 aspect, at least, Time to Pat Ourselves on the Back and Take a Nice Nap might have been a better title for the foundation's blue-ribbon task force.
Large foundations aren't alone when it comes to failing the kids in the Kansas City School District. Politicians prize the worthless educational summit, as well.
Then Mayor Emanuel Cleaver convened a daylong summit at a Baptist church in 1999. The Urban League of Greater Kansas City acted as the sponsor.
Two years later, Mayor Kay Barnes huddled with former superintendent Bernard Taylor Jr. and others at the Westin Crown Center in an attempt to crack the riddle of urban education. The meeting was off-limits to the public, with Barnes citing the "delicate" nature of the work. The Urban League, once again, sponsored the event.
One person who attended the Barnes summit says it wasn't particularly productive. "I don't think anything tangible came out of it," says Judy Morgan, president of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers and School-Related Personnel.
For his part, Funkhouser envisioned a town-hall meeting of Sprint Center scale, with professional democracy consultants, an outfit called AmericaSpeaks, on hand to make sure the event didn't spiral into madness.