Kansas City: Going from 61 schools to 33 to avoid bankruptcy

For a national perspective on the recession’s impact on education, look at Kansas City, Mo., where the district plans to shut 28 out of 61 schools and cut 700 of 3,000 jobs to save $50 million and stave off bankruptcy.

What needs to be noted is that the district has shrunk over the years to 18,000 students, which is an average of 295 students per school. It’s been steadily losing students, so the closings, while emotional, may well be overdue.

The Kansas City school board voted to approve the closings Wednesday night in front of 200 upset parents.

According to the story on AJC.com:

Although other districts nationwide are considering closures as the recession ravages their budgets, Kansas City’s plan is striking. In rapidly shrinking Detroit, 29 schools closed before classes began this fall, but that still left the district with 172 schools. Most other districts are closing just one or two schools.

Emotional board member Duane Kelly told the crowd of more than 200 people Wednesday night, “This is the most painful vote I have ever cast” in 10 years on the board. Some chanted for the removal of the superintendent, while one woman asked the crowd, “Is anyone else ready to homeschool their children?”

Kansas City Councilwoman Sharon Sanders Brooks said the closure plan had prompted some housing developers to consider backing out of projects.

“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,” Brooks said to applause from the standing-room-only crowd. “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.”

Under the approved plan, teachers at six other low-performing schools will be required to reapply for their jobs, andthe district will try to sell its downtown central office. It also is expected to cut about 700 of the district’s 3,000 jobs, including about 285 teachers.

District officials face dozens of issues as they begin the massive job of downsizing the district — reworking school bus routes, figuring out what to do with vacant buildings and slashing its payroll.

Superintendent John Covington has spent the past month making the case to sometimes angry groups of parents and students that the closures are necessary.

Once the district had enough desegregation money to build such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool. But the effort to use upscale facilities and programs to lure in students from the suburbs never worked quite as planned.

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.

14 comments Add your comment


March 11th, 2010
10:37 am

More money for education. That’s what we’re always told by the liberals and education establishment in order for urban schools to compete with the rest. Over TWO BILLION DOLLARS were spent on the desegregation plan for KC schools and it’s in shambles. Do you realize that two billion is two thousand million dollars? Oklahoma City passed MAPS for Kids to build new schools and remodel old ones to lure suburban kids back. That hasn’t worked either. And KC and okc test scores are still terrible. This just goes to prove you can take the kids out of ghetto (putting them in new schools), but you can’t take the ghetto our of the kids.

wagnert in atlanta

March 11th, 2010
11:15 am

This is the end result of a hideously expensive desegregation plan imposed on Kansas City by Federal Judge Russell Clark. Over twelve years, he mandated that the state of Missouri and the Kansas City school district spend $2.1billion, mostly on buildings. When he finally threw up his hands and recused himself in 1997, KC schools had an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room; a robotics lab; professional quality recording, television, and animation studios; theaters; a planetarium; an arboretum, a zoo and a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary; a two-floor library, art gallery, and film studio; a mock court with a judge’s chamber and jury deliberation room; and a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability — and graduation rates had slid further. 44 percent of Missouri’s elementary and secondary education budget was going to schools serving nine percent of Missouri’s kids. And, as anyone could have predicted, money was being wasted at a prodigious rate. While outlying districts had to have bake sales for football uniforms, KC was sending its fencing team to Senegal (really!) The whole story is at http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-298.pdf — and if you choose not to believe the Cato Institute, you can probably dig the details out of the KC Star.

V for Vendetta

March 11th, 2010
11:33 am

I trust the Cato institute. They champion reason, logic, and secularism in politics. Perhaps we need a political party based on such values. Oh, wait, we already have one . . . and it’s largely ignored in favor of communists and religious fundies.

When will people wake up?

Hey, It's Enrico Pallazzo!

March 11th, 2010
12:40 pm

When school enrollment increases, we expect more classroom space (schools) to be added. When school enrollment decreases, shouldn’t we expect the opposite (eliminating classroom space, ie. schools)? Closing schools may seem emotional at the moment but the children will still go to school and be taught by professional teachers. Isn’t that what education is about?

[...] – “Kansas City: Going From 61 Schools To 32 To Avoid Bankruptcy.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Get Schooled blog) [...]


March 11th, 2010
1:03 pm

Whle this is indeed sad, the enrollment figures just aren’t there.

I do think it’s telling, though, that of the 700 positions cut, less than half are teachers. As usual, most of the waste is coming from the board and administrative positions. (I am sure some maintenance and cafeteria staff are also being cut as they close buildings, and I really feel for those people.)

[...] this morning).  Some of the pricey attractions built in new “magnet” schools were an Olympic-size swimming pool with an underwater viewing room; a robotics lab; professional quality recording, television, and [...]

David S

March 11th, 2010
4:32 pm

Once they finally close enough, then maybe a market based system can finally rise up and deliver a quality education.

By comparison, plenty of retailers and other service companies are expanding operations all accross this country. Go figure.

David S

March 11th, 2010
4:33 pm

V for Vendetta – I hope you are talking about the Libertarian party.


March 11th, 2010
5:33 pm

@Wagnert in ATL; thanks for posting that article. I found it intriguing and a great read. (It read a lot like an episode of City Confidential.) However, I disagree with the author’s conclusions. Of course more money isn’t the answer, so why does he support a pay for performance model? It’s quite insulting to me as a teacher that those who support this model think I’d work harder if only they’d pay me more. Most teachers (and yes, there are some crappy ones) work hard daily to provide a quality education for their students. Wouldn’t it make much more sense to spend monies to improve the QUALITY of learning experiences for students? It doesn’t really matter how much money you pay teachers to do the job if they don’t know how or have the time to do it differently. All of this RTTT money ought to be going toward more planning time for teachers to design effective instruction and analyze that instruction to continually improve instead of putting more students in classes and expecting different results.


March 11th, 2010
5:42 pm

Supposedly If Kansas City really valued education then they would put money into it…….


March 11th, 2010
6:34 pm

Let’s talk reasonable cost cutting measures.

I wonder if anyone…..politically connected, of course….has considered doing away with middle schools and putting the 8th grade back in the high schools and the 6th and 7th grades back in elementary schools????

As a middle school teacher for years and years, I am convinced that the middle school concept just isn’t a good thing. These students just do not need to be corralled in one place, reinforcing the undesirable aspects of adolescent behavior…

If 8th graders were back in the high schools, they would have the more reasonable juniors and seniors to model better behavion. If the 6th and 7th graders were back in elementary school, they would assume the role of the older, more experienced models for the younger kids.



March 11th, 2010
7:00 pm


I’m a middle school teacher and have not thought through your arguments but I find them interesting. You may be on to something!!


March 12th, 2010
7:43 am

I agree that the middle school concept is flawed. But I would not favor putting 7th graders with 1st graders. It is too big a difference. 7th,yes. Not 6th. What I would like to see is a return to the Jr. High School concept– 7th, 8th, 9th. This worked very wwell for the 11 years that I taught in a junior high school because it was run like a high school, not like a middle school.