Kansas City Public Schools continues its efforts to reshape the district, planning improvements to academic offerings, student support and activities, and school buildings.
But KCPS doesn’t have unlimited money to make changes. This means that there will be compromises.
As part of his long term planning initiativeknown as Blueprint 2030, the district is asking residents to weigh in on three scenarioseach of which strikes a different balance between closing schools and missing out on potential improvements.
At one end of the spectrum, Scenario 1 would close up to a third of schools in the district, freeing up enough funds to pay for a comprehensive list of priorities developed with community input.
These priorities include teacher increases; improvement of the offer in foreign languages, music, sports and pedagogy by project; and additional support for social-emotional learning and family engagement.
At the other end of the spectrum, Scenario 3, the district could keep nearly 90% of schools open. But staffing and maintenance costs would mean a reduction in almost every priority.
Annual savings estimates for the scenarios range from $21.5 million to $37.5 million.
“We expect it to be kind of a give or take,” said Elle Moxley, public relations coordinator for KCPS. “We don’t expect it to be perfectly one scenario or another; we’re going to have to find some kind of middle point between different options that we have community support for.
Use Blueprint 2030 to improve KCPS efficiency
As KCPS called for participation in Blueprint 2030, Superintendent Mark Bedell made it clear that the district was operating inefficiently compared to similarly sized districts in Missouri and some of its suburban neighbors.
Because it operates aging buildings that are often not filled to capacity, the district spends a higher percentage of its budget on maintenance and administration than it would if consolidating in less than 100 years. schools. It’s also harder to add programs that work better when there’s a larger pool of students to draw from — things like additional sports teams, clubs, and electives.
In a video presentation covering all three scenarios, KCPS senior planner Jesse Lange presented data showing the district spent just over 23% of its budget on K-12 instruction fees during the year. 2019-2020 school year while spending nearly 28% on operations.
The peer districts in the Kansas City, Missouri, metropolitan area all spent more on training than on operations.
The presentation also included a chart created by education consultancy MGT, which helped create the scenarios. He compared KCPS to four similarly sized districts in Missouri, California, Oklahoma and Arizona.
Each of the other districts had 17 to 27 schools in total, with an average of 22. KCPS had 32 listed on the board, but Lange said he really has 37 preschools and alternative programs such as Manual Career and Technical Center.
KCPS estimates that closing schools and streamlining the district’s central office would save tens of millions of dollars each year, even in the least dramatic scenario.
Closing more schools also reduces the estimated costs of maintaining and updating buildings.
The district has hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance and updates needed to make classrooms “future-ready.”
These updates include adding sinks to science classrooms to allow high school students to experiment and eliminating Wi-Fi dead zones so “kids aren’t left out of technology.” they need to move forward. said Moxley.
KCPS will still have to spend more than $300 million on capital projects, including nearly $175 million in necessary works, if it closes a dozen schools. But eliminating certain buildings reduces the price by tens of millions of dollars and saves millions more every year.
This is particularly important in KCPS since district voters have not approved a general obligation bond since the 1960s. School districts often use bonds to finance construction projects.
The district has seen an influx of federal relief funds in recent years, allowing it to expand academic and mental health supports for students. KCPS plans to split the final round of relief dollars — about $60 million — between the next two school years.
Once that funding runs out, the district is counting on a quick implementation of Blueprint 2030 to allow it to continue the programs, said Erin Thompson, executive director of business and finance for KCPS.
Blueprint 2030 Timeline
- Evaluation: until spring 2021
- Goal Setting: Spring 2021 to Winter 2021-22
- Scenario Planning: Spring to Fall 2022
- Recommendations: Fall 2022
- Implementation (academics): early fall 2022
- Implementation (school changes): Early fall 2023
- Assessment: Annual
The district plans to come forward with more specific proposals in the fall of 2022 and begin implementing some of the academic components, Lange said when presenting the scenarios. Construction changes would begin in fall 2023 at the earliest.
Room for public participation on school closures
As it determines which scenario to pursue, the district has sought the public’s input.
More open conversations to set goals began in the spring of 2021. They helped lead to a list of priorities:
- Expand curriculum resources and services.
- Addition of foreign language, instrumental music and science laboratories in elementary schools.
- Increase elective classes for high school and college.
- Added project-based learning to all schools.
- More efficient staff.
- More equitable experiences for students across different KCPS schools and compared to other districts.
- Innovation to meet the needs of all students.
In recent months, the discussions have become clearer. KCPS presented its three scenarios to groups of parents and community partners, asking for feedback on which ones they preferred.
Moxley said the district tries to include all communities, including providing materials in different languages and working with organizations that serve immigrants and refugees.
The three scenarios are not the end of the discussion.
Under scenarios 2 and 3, the district would not be able to fund its full list of improvements. KCPS therefore also offers surveys for the two scenarios where community members choose and rank their top priorities – until they exceed the available budget.
Options include increases for teachers of $11.6 million, which is the most expensive item. In the $2-2.5 million range, residents could choose to expand virtual and evening school options, provide permanent substitute teachers in all schools, expand music instruction , to broaden the offer of world languages and to broaden the teaching of sciences.
Until the end of the month, residents of the district can attend a presentation on the scenarios and take surveys on the Blueprint 2030 homepage.
How to weigh before the polls close on July 1
One item that will be important to families was not part of the district’s presentation: which schools would close.
“We will come to a point where we will talk about details in terms of buildings and programs. We’re not there yet,” Moxley said.
“I know a lot of people want to know what we are planning or if we are targeting specific schools or programs. Were not. We’re really trying to figure out from what people are telling us — through storyline investigation and the balancing act — what’s most important to families in Kansas City, and then we’re going to try to build a plan from there.