- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. | Kansas City’s school superintendent said Thursday the plan to shutter nearly half the district’s schools, while “painful,” will move forward quickly so that all the closures will be complete by fall.

The school board narrowly approved the plan Wednesday night to close 29 of the district’s 61 schools to try to stave off bankruptcy. The closures have angered many parents, students and teachers. But administrators say they had no choice because, without them, the district would have been in the red by 2011.

“It has been a difficult and painful and emotional process that affects our entire community,” Superintendent John Covington said at a news conference. “No one likes closing schools.”

Now officials have to focus on the massive job of downsizing the district - reworking school bus routes, figuring out what to do with vacant buildings and slashing its payroll.

Mr. Covington said he has been working on the transition plan for several weeks and that it would be in place for the start of the school year. He gave few details, but explained that the plan would likely involve staggering start and class schedule times for middle school students who would attend school with high school students.

“We will be moving forward with deliberate speed to put together a transformation plan that we will be using to make sure that the quality of educational opportunities and the services that we provide for all children in the Kansas City schools that will remain open is of high quality,” Mr. Covington said.

Administrators have said 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 desegregation case.

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 in the 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, “This is the most painful vote I have ever cast” in 10 years on the board.

Kansas City Councilwoman Sharon Sanders Brooks said the closure plan 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,” Mrs. Brooks said.

“And now the public education system is aiding and abetting in the economic demise of our school district,” she said.

Under the approved plan, teachers at six other low-performing schools will 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.

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