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Kansas City school board approves Troost and Longfellow closures, asks for help keeping others open

A blue and white school sign sits in the foreground with several trees with orange and brown leaves in front of a brick school building. The sign reads "Longfellow Elementary, Character Trait of the Month: Cooperation."
Carlos Moreno
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KCUR 89.3
Longfellow Elementary in Midtown Kansas City is one of two schools that will close at the end of the school year.

Kansas City Public Schools will close two of its elementary schools at the end of the academic year. It's says parents and community groups can play a part in ensuring more don't end up shuttered.

The Kansas City Board of Education voted on Wednesday to close Troost and Longfellow elementary schools at the end of the academic year, following weeks of pushback from families.

Board members voted 2-4 to close the schools, scaling back the district’s original proposal to close 10 schools.

The audience applauded after the vote, with many parents relieved their schools were off the chopping back. The vote comes after multiple contentious meetings where parents pleaded with the district to keep their schools open.

Still, board members said they were saddened by the tough decision they had to make.

"As a board member, I've been grappling with the weight of this moment and how the decisions of today will be felt today and also into the future," said member-at-large Tanesha Ford. "I also believe that our district, and our system overall, has too many schools than we do students, and we do need to make some very difficult decisions."

The decision to close schools is part of the district’s multi-year strategic plan to give its students the same programs and activities offered to students in suburban districts. District officials expect to save $2.4 million by closing the two schools.

With fewer schools to maintain, the district said it can invest less into operational costs and put more money into academic opportunities like foreign languages, up-to-date science labs and more field trips for students.

Closing two schools will allow the district to accomplish some, but not all, goals for its academic vision. Instrumental music for kindergarten through third grade, and science labs and foreign languages in elementary schools will have to wait for future funding or additional closures.

troostelementary.JPG
Jodi Fortino
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KCUR 89.3
Citing low academic performance and an aging building, Kansas City Public Schools officials will close Troost Elementary at the end of the school year.

The decision to close Troost and Longfellow was based on low enrollment numbers and high costs of deferred maintenance in both buildings, according to district officials.

Longfellow Elementary, in Midtown Kansas City, has 235 students — well below its capacity of 325. The school has made strides academically, according to the district, but officials said the building's condition creates concerns about student safety.

Board member Kandace Buckner said the school’s improving academic performance is one reason she couldn’t vote to close it.

“What can be a potential model for the district is in jeopardy of being disrupted,” Buckner said. “I believe we should find a way to keep the students, teachers and families together. I think that is worth the complexity, the money and the effort.”

Board President Nate Hogan also voted against the plan.

The school has $6.55 million in deferred maintenance, and district officials noted that a carbon monoxide leak in the building in October led to the hospitalization of several students and staff members.

The district reported that 19% of Longfellow students scored “proficient” or “advanced” on state tests for English. Only 10% of students scored in that range for math.

Troost Elementary, at 1215 E. 59th St., is also operating below capacity, with just 250 students. District officials said the school had the largest enrollment drop in the last five years compared to the rest of its buildings.

The school has also had ongoing academic performance challenges, according to district officials. Just 11% of Troost students scored “proficient” or “advanced” on state tests for English, and only 5% scored in that range for math.

The school has $4.33 million in deferred maintenance. District officials said even if improvements were made to the facility, it has too many undersized classrooms.

The district said it will work with families to find the best alternative school for students in the fall. They will also establish “transition teams” at the closing schools to assist and support students in their move, officials said.

Will more schools have to close?

More schools could close in the future. The district said it will reconsider closure plans after further engagement with the community, and the potential passage of a bond in spring 2024. KCPS hasn't had a successful school bond since 1967.

Each school in the district will be given goals for academic achievement, attendance and enrollment, officials said, creating benchmarks that will be the basis for future decisions on school closures and consolidations.

To get schools to meet these goals, the district is issuing a call to action for families. Officials said a task force will be created to focus on issues that impact KCPS, including academic performance, school safety and economic development.

Community organizations committed to helping the district achieve these goals were at Wednesday evening’s board meeting, including representatives from the Mattie Rhodes Center and Lykins Neighborhood Association.

Gregg Lombardi, executive director of the Lykins Neighborhood Association, said they’ve raised $6,000 to enlist “parent ambassadors” tasked with recruiting students to their area school, Whittier Elementary.

"We have really found that we have a school that's worth fighting for. It's doing an excellent job for kids who are at risk, and we are going to continue fighting for it," Lombardi said.

Community members also praised Interim Superintendent Jennifer Collier for her leadership during the closure process, noting she listened to feedback and gained trust by deciding to scale back the original closure recommendations.

The school district is currently conducting a search for its next permanent superintendent after longtime leader Mark Bedell resigned last summer. The final candidate for the job will be presented to the board by the end of February.

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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