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Kansas City Public Schools proposes closures to give students 'a full-blown, robust experience'

KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell discusses the next stage of Blueprint 2030, the school district's long term strategic plan.
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell discusses the next stage of Blueprint 2030, the school district's long-term strategic plan.

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell said that while the district has regained its full accreditation, that could change "if we don't change and do things differently."

Kansas City Public Schools just earned full accreditation this year, but it’s already working on what’s next.

This week, the district continued community conversations with students, family and staff about Blueprint 2030, its multi-year strategic plan.

At Central High School on Monday night, district officials presented different “scenarios” on how its schools and programs might look like in the future.

“We won't stay fully accredited if we don't change and do things differently. What got us here will not keep us fully accredited,” said Superintendent Mark Bedell. “So the work that we're talking about doing now with Blueprint 2030 is to make sure that we have sustainable performance in this school district.”

Compared to other local school districts, KCPS says it’s spending significantly more on operational costs, like transportation, food services, and security. The school district spends nearly 28% of its expenditures on operation costs. Grandview School District, the closest district to spending that amount, only spends about 18%.

Bedell said that means less money is going towards what’s going on in classrooms and students’ social, emotional and academic development.

He also noted that declining enrollment numbers at many schools means less amenities and resources are available to students.

“I have some high schools where we have not even seen over 600 kids in them since I've been here. So we were already small in 2016,” Bedell said. “And in some of our high schools, that number is down to 400. Now, how much can we offer these kids?”

KCPS has compiled a list of opportunities that families and staff say they want offered to their students.

  • Full expansion of curricular resources and services to students and schools 
  • Full expansion of foreign language, instrumental music and science labs into the elementary schools 
  • Strong increase of elective courses at the middle- and high-school level 
  • Project-based learning experiences at all schools 
  • More efficient staffing model for content and support
  • More equitable student experiences within KCPS and among other school districts
  • Greater opportunities for innovation and differentiation to meet the needs of all students

Different scenarios for school consolidations

To make those programs happen, district officials say there will need to be some school closures and consolidation. At Monday night's meeting, they offered three different possibilities on how the district could be configured. In each scenario, cost reductions would also be made to the district’s central office.

The first option would allow for all of the desired student opportunities and programs, but would drop the number of schools from 37 to about 25. That would mean closing about 9 to 10 elementary schools and 2 to 3 high schools.

Jesse Lange, senior planner at KCPS, said these programs are needed to boost enrollment numbers.

“One reason why students are leaving Kansas City, just in general and moving to the suburbs, has to do with some of the opportunities they can have after school,” Lange said. “So we want to make sure that students can get those opportunities here within Kansas City.”

In this scenario, the district estimates it would save about $37.5 million every year that could be invested in its academic programs and opportunities. KCPS would still need about $172 million to address deferred maintenance, like roofs and walls that need repair.

Additionally, the district said it would also need $140 million for spaces for students to do more “project-based learning.”

The next scenario would drop the number of operating schools to about 27 and would save less money, at $32 million in savings. The district would have to pay more to operate the additional schools and would have to reduce or limit some of the offered opportunities.

A third possibility would keep 30 schools open, but would reduce, limit or eliminate all offered opportunities.

Community members shared their thoughts on the different presented scenarios for school closures and plans.
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
Community members shared their thoughts on the different presented scenarios for school closures and plans.

Since there is less cost-saving in the last two scenarios, district officials asked for feedback from community members on what opportunities they would prioritize.

Caitlin Clark, president of the parent-teacher organization at the Foreign Language Academy, said she worried that a limited budget would make it difficult to implement programs in an equitable way across different schools.

“Now you're distributing a limited number of resources. So who gets what?” Clark asked.

Some attendees expressed concerns about the effect closing schools would have on class sizes, transportation and a sense of community around certain schools.

Others saw it as a necessary means to obtain extra resources for students and eventually boost enrollment.

Tracy Pruitt, a graduate of KCPS, said the high school that she attended in the district has since closed. She says she understands the pain of watching your alma mater close.

“But if we're looking at the programs for our students, sometimes we have to take that hit in order to get the betterment for what our students deserve,” Pruitt said.

Bedell acknowledged that because of the community’s emotional attachment, the district will have to be thoughtful in how it consolidates schools and will need to continue to engage families and staff.

Still, he also noted that the plan "isn't about school closures and consolidations."

"It's got to be easier on our building teachers and administrators that they have the resources and the amenities that they need to give their kids a full-blown, robust experience," Bedell said.

Other engagement sessions will be held at 9 a.m. on Tuesday at the Manual Career Tech Center and at 5:30 p.m. at Northeast Middle School. A session in Spanish will be held at 5:30 p.m. at Carver Dual Language School.

More meetings will be held through the summer before recommendations are made in the fall to the district’s board of education for review and approval.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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