The Kansas City Board of Education voted Wednesday to close Troost and Longfellow Elementary Schools at the end of the academic year, after weeks of pushback from families.
Board members voted 2-4 to close the schools, downplaying the district’s original proposal to close 10 schools.
The public cheered after the vote, with many parents relieved their schools were out of the cut. The vote comes after multiple controversial meetings in which parents pleaded with the district to keep their schools open.
However, board members said they were saddened by the difficult decision they had to make.
“As a board member, I have been grappling with the weight of this moment and how today’s decisions will feel today and well into the future,” said Tanesha Ford. “I also believe that our district, and our system in general, has too many schools for us students, and we have to make some very difficult decisions.”
The decision to close the schools is part of the district’s multi-year strategic plan to offer its students the same programs and activities offered to students in suburban neighborhoods. District officials expect to save $2.4 million by closing the two schools.
With fewer schools to maintain, the district said it could invest less in operating costs and invest more money in academic opportunities such as foreign languages, updated science labs and more field trips for students.
Closing two schools will allow the district to achieve some, but not all, of its academic vision. Instrumental music in kindergarten through third grade and science and foreign language laboratories in elementary schools will have to wait for future funding or further closures.
The decision to close Troost and Longfellow was based on low enrollment and the high costs of deferred maintenance at 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 conditions at the building create concerns for student safety.
Board member Kandace Buckner said the school’s improved academic performance is one reason she could not vote to close it.
“What may be a potential model for the district is in danger of being disrupted,” Buckner said. “I think we should find a way to keep students, teachers and families together. I think it’s worth the complexity, the money and the effort.”
Board Chairman 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 several students and staff members being hospitalized.
The district reported that 19% of Longfellow students scored “proficient” or “advanced” on the state tests for English. Only 10% of students scored in that range for math.
Troost Elementary, at 1215 E. 59th St., is also operating under capacity, with only 250 students. District officials said the school had the largest decline in enrollment over the past five years compared to the rest of its buildings.
The school has also had ongoing academic performance issues, according to district officials. Only 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 though improvements have been 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 the students this fall. They will also set up “transition teams” at closing schools to assist and support students in their transition, officials said.
Will other schools have to close?
More schools may close in the future. The district said it will reconsider closure plans after further community engagement and the potential passage of a bond in spring 2024. KCPS has not had a successful school bond since 1967.
Each school in the district will be assigned goals for academic achievement, attendance and enrollment, officials said, creating benchmarks that will form the basis for future decisions on school closures and consolidations.
To get schools to meet these goals, the district is launching a call to action for families. Officials said a task force would be created to focus on issues impacting the KCPS, including academic achievement, school safety and economic development.
Community organizations committed to helping the district achieve these goals were in attendance at Wednesday evening’s board meeting, including representatives from the Mattie Rhodes Center and the Lykins Neighborhood Association.
Gregg Lombardi, executive director of the Lykins Neighborhood Association, said they raised $6,000 to enlist “parent ambassadors” to recruit students at their area school, Whittier Elementary.
“We have truly found that we have a school that is worth fighting for. It is doing a great job for at-risk children and we will continue to fight for that,” Lombardi said.
Community members also praised Acting Superintendent Jennifer Collier for her leadership during the closure process, noting that she listened to feedback and gained trust in 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 stepped down last summer. The final candidate for the job will be presented to the board by the end of February.