Kansas City, Mo., decided on Wednesday to shut nearly half of its schools in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy. At the raucous school-board meeting, parents screamed and children wept as the vote came down 5 - 4 in favor of shuttering 29 of the city's 61 schools.
Ronda Kaysen: "I feel like I have nothing," Prince Jones, a senior whose high school will close at the end of the year, told reporters. "I have no high-school legacy. I feel like I have nothing, nothing to go back to."
A mother lamented that her children, ages 6 and 8, would go to school next year with
18-year-old high-school seniors. "I find that very inappropriate," Deneicia Williams told a local television station. "I don't feel my children will be safe."
The school's superintendent, John Covington, attributes the problem to dwindling class size and dismal finances. The district is educating 18,000 students in 61 schools. Critics say the move will only further the urban blight that has a death grip on the city's urban center. Along with the closures, 700 employees will receive pink slips; 285 of them are teachers.
"This is the most painful vote I have ever cast [in ten years on the board]," board member Duane Kelly told the crowd of more than 200 people. Parents called for the firing of Covington.
The stunning news out of Kansas City comes in the wake of other grim news about the state of the country's educational system. Districts in 17 states have been scaling back the school week to four days to save cash. And a Rhode Island school district took the unusually Draconian step of shutting a failing school and firing the entire staff because test scores weren't improving. Barack Obama, once the darling of the teachers' unions, hailed the move for making teachers accountable.
What is going on with our schools? The economy is in a shambles, jobs are scarce. Now, more than ever, children need a good education -- and a consistent one. If we expect to have an educated workforce a generation from now, we must educate our children properly and with dignity.
The Kansas City school district is in serious financial trouble, but by shutting 29 schools, it leaves the city vulnerable to urban blight as hulking buildings languish empty and unused in the city's core. Children will now be crammed into the few remaining schools, bused further and lose the communities they've built over the years. The layoffs that come with the closures will only increase the dismal unemployment numbers.
The government bailed out the bankers because they argued that a failed banking industry would bring this country down. I'd argue that a failed educational system will do just the same.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, The New York Observer, Babble.com and AM New York. She lives in New Jersey with her family. Follow her on Twitter.|