Kansas City Fires Half Its Teachers

Last Wednesday the Kansas City Board of Education in Missouri voted to close 28 of the district’s 61 schools and lay off 700 of its 3000 employees. The district says the closings are expected to save $50 million, erasing the deficit from the $300 million budget. In a 5 – 4 vote, the board members endorsed the Right-Size plan, proposed by schools superintendent John Covington.

“We must make sacrifices,” said board member Joel Pelofsky, who voted for the plan. “Unite in favor of our children.”

What’s going on here? Is this yet another punishment meted out to schools that don’t match up to federal expectations? It turns out that this situation is a little unusual. Enrollment in the school district has declined by half in the last 10 years alone, and the schools are only 48 percent full. As Covington explained, “Keeping all of the schools open with too few children in them is draining the resources we need to improve the education of all students.”

This situation has evolved because children don’t live in the same numbers and the same places as they did when the schools were first built, decades ago. With “white flight,” families have moved to the suburbs and beyond, leading several superintendents to try, unsuccesfully, to pare back the number of schools, but until now the residents and the school board have been able to resist. John Covington arrived in July, saw immediately that the district was both underperforming and also going into debt and decided that things had to change.

This is clearly tragic for many students, who will be forced to relocate to other schools, as some have already done a few times in the past. As Covington said on Thursday, “No one likes closing schools. It’s hard. It’s tough on families, and it’s certainly tough on our community.” But realistically, what other options could the superintendent have come up with?

Kansas City is not alone. School districts across the country, hit hard by budget cuts, have been struggling for several years to make ends meet. They have had to make some tough choices between layoffs, closures, program cuts and school bus cancellations. School districts in at least 17 states have opted for four-day weeks.

Once the anger has died down, it will be important to follow the next steps.
Right now, less than a third of elementary students in the city schools read at or above grade level. And in most of the schools, fewer than a fourth of students are proficient at their grade levels. If these closings improve achievement by allowing the system to focus its resources, that will be a good thing.

However, Covington’s plans for the future sound alarmingly like what’s coming out of the U.S. education department right now: basing the notion of achievement on standardized tests scores alone, and developing a pay-for-performance plan to teachers. As I’ve written before on this page, the No Child Left Behind model does not serve our students well. Mr. Covington, please think carefully before implementing your plans – the future of Kansas City students is at stake. Maybe you could try asking some of your teachers for their suggestions?

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Judy Molland

106 comments

Mervi R.
Mervi R.6 years ago

Thanks for the info!

Thomas Klein
Thomas Klein6 years ago

mmhh, difficult. but i believe to cut budgets for education is the wrong way.

Eileen P.
Eileen P.6 years ago

our school systems are totally out of control for the students....
bad decisions are made even on a day to day basis....

our kids are suffering ...... going to school has become such a chore for them....

Blake W.
Blake W.6 years ago

I think the first step is to stop assuming kids of the same age should progress at the same rate. This is completely unrealistic. Let the kids who are doing well jump through the grades quickly, keep the ones who aren't doing well back. Stop focusing on making sure everyone meets some minimal requirement which could be passed by a reasonably competent gerbil, which results in keeping all the students who are smarter than a gerbil back.

Elaine Dixon
Elaine Dixon6 years ago

thanks for the information

Mary Latela
Mary Latela6 years ago

What is the next step? Seriously, what is the masterplan which will result in children learning to read and do arithmetic?

Catherine O Neill

You can thank Obama for this. Also parent's need to start banding together & make their voices heard.

John A.
John A.6 years ago

When can teachers fire 1/2 the parents & 25% of the students??!!
It's always the teachers' fault. When will the students & parents be held accountable?

Lynda L.
Lynda L.6 years ago

This is the cause of the Dumbing down of America, literally, and if people don't stop this nonsense right now this country wil be no more. We are already the most under-educated,stupidest people on the planet with low test score, no one seem to care about this fact. We spend more then any other country on wars and yet we cut education funding at every turn. Shame on this congress that advocates this and cuts funding to states and schools which is an american right to each child. Children have a right to a good education and these cuts hurt all of us, every one of us every day they do this. Cut Congressional health care, cut their paychecks, stop their wasteful trips with their fanmilies at OUR EXPENSE, and cut their lifelong pensions. No one else has a pension anymore, why should congress get one any more? They don't deserve it anyway. This is the worst congress in American History and they should all be fired and sent back to their states in shame. We get what we pay for and we're not paying for education and so we have dumb people, like 'birthers' and those who think health care reform means socialism and yet when asked, "there same people have no idea what socialism even is! This is embarassing to watch on TV as other countries must assume ( correctly) that the US are a nation of idiots! This will end when we fire every member of congress and only get senators that care about education and helping Americans to succeed not fail due to stupidity!

Liz B.
Liz Bitzelberger6 years ago

Can we get any more anti-education??
What happened to not leaving children behind and giving them an education? In the small rural town and they are doing the same thing here to our teachers, it's not fair. Especially when it's the teachers our community needs and they are worthy of teaching our children and there are people who are not worthy and those are the people they are leaving in the community to teach our kids