KANSAS CITY — The Kansas City school board voted Wednesday night to close nearly half the district's schools in a desperate bid to stay afloat.
The board's 5-4 decision came after parents and community leaders made final pleas for the district not to shut down 29 out of 61 schools as it seeks to erase a projected $50 million budget shortfall.
"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.
"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, buildings would be shuttered by the end of the school year. Teachers at six other low-performing schools would be required to reapply for their jobs, and the district would sell its downtown central office. It also would cut about 700 of the district's 3,000 jobs — including 285 teachers.
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.
"It's not an easy thing," Loyacono said. "We knew going into that we would have 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. Some of the really good programs we have really suffered."
Despite the need, she said nobody likes to see schools closed.
"It's a tough day," Loyacono said.
Superintendent John Covington has spent the past month making the case to sometimes angry groups of parents and students that the closures are 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.