Published Online: February 15, 2010

K.C. District Ponders Closing Half of Its Schools

Kansas City School District is considering a proposal to close half of its schools as it struggles to cut up to $50 million from its budget for the upcoming academic year.

Under the plan district Superintendent John Covington proposed to the school board Saturday, 29 to 31 of the district's 60 schools would be shuttered, eliminating as many as 285 teaching positions.

The district's population has shrunk from a peak of 75,000 students in the late 1960s to 17,000 today.

"Folks, it's going to hurt," Covington told an overflow audience at the offices of the district's law firm. "It's going to be painful, but if we work together, we're going to get through it."

Public forums are planned this week on Covington's proposals, which also call for the redistribution of grade levels and selling the downtown central office.

The Kansas City Star said Covington wants to present a final plan for a vote at a Feb. 24 board meeting.

Chief Operating Officer Roosevelt Brown said the district's school buildings were being used at about half their capacity.

"There are all the costs for custodial service, heat and maintenance around that, which we could take and target to the educational needs of students," he said.

Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Lee-Gwin said the proposed closings would lower maintenance and staff costs and could potentially save the district $50 million. The district projects it needs to cut $40 million to $50 million from the 2010-2011 budget.

The plan also calls for a massive shift in how students would be grouped. Most notably, the district's secondary schools would serve grades seven through 12, reversing a transition to mostly kindergarten-through-eighth-grade elementary schools.

The district also would renew efforts to sell its administration building, which is less than half used.

Covington said the cuts are necessary.

"If we keep on our current trajectory, the only thing we can hope for is that the Mayan calendar (which suggests an end of the world in 2012) is correct," he said. "Because it's coming."

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