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Drastic Move Roils Kansas City Schools

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) - Despite a city councilwoman's complaint that the "shameful and sinful" school board is "aiding and abetting in the economic demise of our school district," the Kansas City School Board voted to close nearly half of the city's schools at the end of the academic year and fire 700 of its 3,000 employees, including 285 teachers.

Facing a $50 million deficit in a $300 million budget, the board endorsed Superintendent John Covington's plan by 5-4 vote. The board acted after parents and community leaders made final pleas to keep their schools open.

But the board voted to close 29 of the district's 61 schools at the end of the school year; teachers at six other low-performing schools will have to reapply for their jobs, and the district will close its downtown central office.

Superintendent Covington calls it the "Right Size" plan. Covington has tried to make the case, to sometimes angry groups of parents and students, that the closures are necessary. Buildings are only half-full and test scores have been abysmal. The district enrolls fewer than 18,000 students, half of its population a decade ago and just one-fourth of its peak in the 1960s.

Many students have left for publicly funded private and charter schools and others have left for the suburbs. Fewer students mean less money from the state and federal governments.

In recent years, the district has had to use a large reserve of money built up when a $2 billion court-ordered desegregation plan provided a windfall.

Kansas City Councilwoman Sharon Sanders Brooks drew applause from the standing-room only crowd at the district's Wednesday night board meeting when she blasted the plan.

"The urban core has suffered white flight post the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. the Board of Education, blockbusting by the real estate industry, redlining by banks and other financial institutions, retail and grocery store abandonment," Sanders Brooks said. "And now the public education system is aiding and abetting in the economic demise of our school district. It is shameful and sinful."

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