Kansas City, Mo., Closing Nearly Half Its Schools

The Kansas City school board narrowly approved a plan Wednesday night to close nearly half the district's schools in a desperate bid to avoid a potential bankruptcy.

The board voted 5-4 after parents and community leaders made final pleas to spare the schools even as the beleaguered district seeks to erase a projected $50 million budget shortfall. The approved plan calls for shuttering 29 of 61 schools — a striking amount even as public school closures rise nationwide while the recession eats away at academic budgets.

"The urban core has suffered white flight post-the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. the Board of Education, blockbusting by the real estate industry, redlining by banks and other financial institutions, retail and grocery store abandonment," Kansas City Councilwoman Sharon Sanders Brooks said to applause from a standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 people.

'Shameful and sinful'
"And now the public education system is aiding and abetting in the economic demise of our school district," she said. "It is shameful and sinful."

Many school board members said the vote was difficult. An emotional Duane Kelly called it "the most painful vote" he has cast in 10 years on the board.

Under the approved plan, buildings will be shuttered before the next school year. Teachers at six other low-performing schools will be required to reapply for their jobs, and the district will sell its downtown central office. About 700 of the district's 3,000 jobs — including 285 teachers — also are expected to be cut.

"My analogy is we took a meat ax to the district," said board member Joel Pelofsky, who voted for the closures. "Now we have to figure out how to sandpaper it into place."

Some parents called for Superintendent John Covington's departure after the vote, shouting, "He has to go."

Covington, one in a long line of superintendents, has spent the past month making the case to sometimes angry groups of parents and students that the closures are necessary. He declined to discuss the closures after the meeting but planned to talk at a news conference Thursday.

Laura Loyacono, 45, the parent of a 13-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy, served on a committee that helped draft the closure proposal.

Program quality 'suffered'
"It's not an easy thing," Loyacono said. "We knew going into it that we would have to close a significant number of schools because of the budget issues and because the resources have been so diluted and so spread out that I think some of the program quality has really suffered."

Despite the need, she said nobody likes to see schools closed.

"None of us liked voting for this," board member and former desegregation attorney Arthur Benson said, "but it was necessary."

Covington has stressed that the district's buildings are only half-full as its population has plummeted amid political squabbling and chronically abysmal test scores. The district's enrollment of fewer than 18,000 students is about half of what the schools had a decade ago and just a quarter of its peak in the late 1960s.

Many students have left for publicly funded charter schools, private and parochial schools and the suburbs.

Fewer students means less money from the state. For the past few years, the district has been plowing through the large reserves it built up when money from a $2 billion court-ordered desegregation plan was flooding its coffers.

School administrators have said that without radical cuts, the district could be in the red by 2011.

Further stressing the budget, the district will lose $23.5 million in the upcoming academic year that it had received from the state for educating students who attended seven schools that have switched to a better-performing neighboring district. The school district isn't the only one serving students in Kansas City; several smaller districts operate in the city's boundaries.

Nationally, many big districts are closing just one or two schools. Detroit closed 29 schools before classes began this fall, but that still left the district with 172 schools.

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  • by teacher on Mar 11, 2010 at 01:19 PM
    This all goes back to ruling by some imbecile judge. He mandated billions of dollars to go to education. Now, this is the result. He made the KC school system open all these "specialized" schools that the system could not possibly keep open. As are result, KC has WAY to many schools for the number of kids. Other news outlets had the enrollment at 17,000. If 61 schools are open that averages to about 300 per school. Simply saying that cutting administration and other "non-essential" employees could not possibly make up for the several million dollar short fall. This is the price we pay when people who no nothing about education or teaching think they have the solution. Which generally means throw money at it.
  • by Only the beginning on Mar 11, 2010 at 07:48 AM
    This is only the beginning people. Laugh or say what you will; G. Beck has been saying and showing possible proof that this IS just the beginning. Sad part is; much of what he has been saying is now coming true. 1 1 = 2.
  • by Kimo Location: Belhaven on Mar 11, 2010 at 05:34 AM
    Interesting. Close almost half of the schools and the staffing goes down by less than 25%. No wonder they have a problem. Sounds almost like something eastern NC would do.
  • by Citizen Location: Greenville on Mar 11, 2010 at 02:26 AM
    I bet the Superintendent of Schools is still employed with a hugh salary. What should be done is remove extra admin staff i.e. vice principles, superintendents etc, for the superintendent job the Principles hold a board with one being elected board president with no increase of salary, Also extent retirements to thirty years or 65 years old.
  • by Citizen Location: Greenville on Mar 11, 2010 at 02:19 AM
    It is not fair in Greenville that city council members who are elected for a short period can make rules which impact the city for yeras to come, i.e. health care. When a city coucil is reelected the contracts involving employees should be able to be reviewed and changed for the benefit of the city not the workers. Budget balance is not more taxes.
  • by Citizen Location: Greenville on Mar 11, 2010 at 02:13 AM
    When the local government is out of money, why not do a pay cut for all employees. Extending retirements until thirty years on the job or 65 years old would save millions. Most would be eligible for medicare. We just cannot keep taxing to keep people who are well payed.
  • by Jethro Bodine Location: New Bern on Mar 11, 2010 at 01:43 AM
    With the exponential nature of the human's breeding practices and the given the finite resources the people have to live a good quality lifestyle...I saw long ago that we were heading for a decline. Back in the 70s, (when I first realized this) I tried to figure out how cognoscente of this matter the rest of the world was aware. I found that liberals were not as aware as conservatives, but their seemed to be an especially high number of Republicans that could see this problem coming in the future. Now with the government so aligned for hemorrhaging money, with so many holes bleeding, it has not only drained all the surplus we had in the 60s, but has since built a debt the likes of which I couldn't have imagined. (and still can't) The Dems are quickly giving out money that doesn't exist because they can't see the bottom. Reps saw this coming long ago and have ignored it while lining their pockets. Less than 15% of the people see the big picture. The ones that do, don't care. That's life

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