More school closures possibility for KCPS

By LESLIE COLLINS
Northeast News
December 4, 2013

Despite the right-sizing initiative that began in 2010 which shuttered more than 30 schools, the Kansas City Public Schools may need to shutter additional schools in the near future.

“It’s something we know we’re going to have to look at,” said KCPS Public Relations Manager Andre Riley. “We continue to have a declining enrollment. We know that within our boundaries we’ve had a drop in the number of children being born; we’ve had a 15 percent decrease since the recession in the number of children born within our school district, so there are fewer kids to be had no matter what school it is. Our enrollment is falling, and we have to make sure we utilize buildings properly.”

Declining enrollment, along with the plan to open two middle schools next fall, were the catalysts for re-evaluating the district’s facilities master plan. According to KCPS, the primary goal of the facilities master plan is to assess the adequacy of each school building and determine if improvements need to be made to enhance the learning environment. As part of the plan, KCPS officials are also evaluating current attendance boundaries and are seeking public input.

Top facility improvements listed by attendees from past public meetings included ensuring that KCPS schools provide up-to-date technology for students as well as more dependable WiFi capabilities; provide temperature controls in individual classrooms; upgrade restroom facilities and ensure that a school’s exterior and interior are aesthetically pleasing.

When asked to list KCPS’ most critical needs regarding facilities, attendance boundaries topped the list. The district’s right-sizing initiative created some quirks in attendance boundaries, and as a result, some students aren’t attending the school that’s closest to them geographically, said Jesse Lange, planner for KCPS.

“They’re also having to cross a major roadway or natural barrier to get there,” Lange said.

In other instances, a neighborhood is split among several schools. For example, the Blue Hills neighborhood is split among three elementary schools, he said.

With high schools, another challenge is the lack of a feeder pattern from elementary schools.

As a result of declining enrollment, not every school building is being utilized at its target “utilization rate,” said Shannon Jaax, director of the KCPS Repurposing Initiative. Recommended target utilization rates for KCPS are 350 to 600 students in each elementary school; 500 to 800 students in each middle school; and 700 to 1,200 students in each high school. The goal is for 85 percent of KCPS schools to meet those target rates. KCPS has 19 neighborhood elementary schools, and ten are currently falling below target utilization rates. Once KCPS launches its two middle schools next fall, all of its high schools will fall below target rates except one.

“Really what this tells us is if we were to operate that way, we’re not maximizing the dollars in the classroom,” Jaax said.

According to KCPS, benefits of achieving recommended school sizes are “expanded course offerings and extracurricular opportunities” as well as a “more equitable distribution of resources to support student needs.”

“We want to make sure we’re making the best use of our resources,” Riley said.

Of the 31,361 school age children living within KCPS boundaries, only 14,307 attend KCPS schools. This year’s KCPS enrollment totaled 14,307 and KCPS predicts that if current trends continue that number will drop to 12,139 by the year 2019. However, KCPS has also created a “turn around plan” that predicts moderate to slight enrollment growth if KCPS makes gains in graduation rates, regains accreditation and works to attract and retain students in all grade levels. That path predicts a student enrollment of 14,888 by the year 2019.

KCPS is continuing to discuss options, and the public is encouraged to attend upcoming meetings, Riley said. KCPS staff will provide a facilities master plan update to the KCPS Board of Education on Dec. 4. The next facilities master plan public meeting will be held on Jan. 14 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Paseo Academy, 4747 Flora, Kansas City, Mo.

“We need their participation. It’s vital that we have our community with us every step of the way during this process,” Riley said. “We’re talking about some really important issues, whether it be the redrawing of boundaries which determines which kids in which neighborhoods go to a certain school; it also determines if we have to close schools and what types of programming we’ll have at the schools that remain open. We really encourage them to come out and participate in the process so they can know what’s going on and that they can be heard.”

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