Mass school closures OK'd in Kansas City
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Facing potential bankruptcy, the board that governs the once flush-with-cash Kansas City school district is taking the unusual and contentious step of shuttering almost half its schools. Administrators say the closures are necessary to keep the district from plowing through what little is left of the $2 billion it received as part of a groundbreaking de s egregat i on cas e. The Kansas City school board narrowly approved the plan to close 29 out of 61 schools Wednesday night at a meeting packed with angry parents. The schools will close at the end of the school year. 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 mo r e t h a n 2 0 0 p e o p l e 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. t h e Board o f 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-perfo rming s cho o l s wi l l be required to reapply for their jobs, and the 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.