KCPS residents outraged at proposal to close schools

Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 10:25 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - It got heated Monday night when Kansas City Public Schools staff gave people a chance to weigh in on possible school closures.

The district is considering closing 10 schools to allocate more money to improving educational programs. The administration held the first of nine community feedback sessions Monday night at Southeast Community Center.

They got an earful. The district planned a presentation of the proposal to be followed by discussion in small breakout groups. But, the audience was having none of it.

“That’s some bull,” one woman shouted in the middle of interim deputy superintendent Derald Davis’ presentation.

That woman’s remark was preceded and followed by a mix of grumbling and shouting.

“I get it,” said interim superintendent Jennifer Collier, taking the microphone from Davis to respond to the emotional outbursts. “You’re passionate about it.”

“Let’s show some respect!” a man in the crowd shouted in her defense.

Before she could finish her thought, the shouting in protest resumed.

“We can’t talk over one another and yell like this,” Collier said in a moment of calm.

The presentation was able to continue briefly but, as another administrator began going through the list of schools slated for closure, tempers flared again.

“You don’t know our culture!” a man shouted. “We’re not attached to a building. We’re attached to our community!”

One woman remarked about communities in the central and east sides of the city broken up by highways.

The history of a district disrupted by a desegregation process decades ago also remains fresh and painful.

“Then you start bussing our children again like you did in the ‘60s and ‘70s! Outside of our neighborhoods, breaking down our communities,” said that woman.

The district only this year regained full accreditation from the Missouri State Board of Education after losing it more than a decade ago due to poor performance and declining enrollment. Some of the latter was due to the growth of charter schools, a topic that also touched a nerve Monday night.

“I get it. We’re yelling and we’re upset right now. But, help me understand. What is the plan if we do nothing?” Collier asked the crowd of nearly 100 people.

Some questioned the value and cost of bringing a consulting firm.

“How do you hire out-of-state consultants to come in and, all of a sudden, they are the experts?” asked Northeast High School alumna and retired KCPS teacher Nadine Boles.

The purpose behind the proposal is to shift spending from building maintenance to foot the bill for added academic programs and upgraded facilities at the remaining 27 schools, possibly even add new schools if they can get a bond measure on the ballot. The end goal is to bring KCPS up to par with more modernized neighboring districts.

“Academically, what should we do for them? If we don’t have money to put into academic programs like we should?” Collier asked the audience at one point, trying to redirect them.

A lot of people in the audience were particularly passionate about Central High School. It’s one of two high schools on the list of proposed closures. The proposal calls for closing buildings in phases. Central’s closure is slated as one of the first to close.

“That’s why you’re here. You’re trying to stop it. But, you can’t stop it when you’re fighting,” Pat Clarke told the audience.

Clarke, a former city council candidate and community activist, is also the president of the Oak Park neighborhood association. That’s the neighborhood where Central High School sits.

“[Closing Central] would be a bad move,” Clarke said. “But, it’s not for certain yet.”

Davis said two of the district’s high schools — Central included — were built for more than 1,000 and now have fewer than 500 students. In the case of Central, he concurred with a man in the audience who remarked that Central began with about 1,600 students and now has about 400.

The school board is expected to vote on a final plan in December.

The slide presentation that includes which schools are on the list of proposed closures can be found here.

The district eventually pivoted midway through Monday’s meeting to put their presentation on hold and pass the microphone around the room, so people could speak their minds before the full audience.

A spokesperson said they’d be flexible with their format at each of the next eight meetings on the topic. One will be remote and one will be conducted in Spanish.

The school district provided the following information about upcoming community meetings on this topic:

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 19

6-7:30 p.m. - Central High School, 3221 Indiana Ave. in KCMO

THURSDAY, OCT. 20

5:30-7 p.m. - Virtual Meeting via kcpublicschools.org/Blueprint2030

TUESDAY, OCT. 25

6-7:30 p.m. - Northeast Middle School, 4904 Independence Ave. in KCMO

THURSDAY, OCT. 27

5:30-7 p.m. - Westport Plexpod Commons, Room 1L, 300 E. 39th St. in KCMO

Parking is available in the North Lot (ADA Accessible) on 38th and Warwick, or the upper surface lot of the garage on Warwick nearest 39th Street. Enter the building through the Annex (smallest building) and take the skywalk to Room 1L.

TUESDAY, NOV. 1

5-6:30 p.m. - Northeast Public Library, 6000 Wilson Ave. in KCMO

THURSDAY, NOV. 3

4-5:30 p.m. - James Elementary, 5810 Scarritt Ave. in KCMO

SATURDAY, NOV. 5

9-10:30 a.m. (English), 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. (Español) - Manual Career and Technical Center, 1215 E. Truman Rd. in KCMO

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 9

4-5:30 p.m. - Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, 4747 Flora Ave. in KCMO

Meals and child care will be provided at all engagement sessions. Interpretation services in Spanish, Somali, Swahili and Burmese will be available at all in-person chats with the exception of the Nov. 5 session en Español; that conversation will be conducted entirely in Spanish.