shelf in old schoolroom
Michael Q. McShane

The Kansas City Public School’s new master strategic plan has already attracted its fair share of controversy.  Closing Southwest, a school that has been in operation for 90 years, is going to grab headlines. Closing two other schools, Crispus Attucks and Satchel Paige, will get people fired up as well.  So will altering attendance boundaries so as to change the school of around 2,000 students. 

The plan is still in its public comment period, so I’d like to offer the questions that I have:

1. Is the district serious about reining in administrative bloat?

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education publishes administrator/student ratios for every district in the state.  For 2015, Kansas City had significantly more administrators on a per pupil basis than surrounding school districts, and even more than St. Louis. By a lot.

District

Students per Administrator

North Kansas city

276

Liberty

261

Independence

251

Lee’s Summit

241

St. Louis

201

Kansas City

172

 

Those extra administrators represent serious money that could be spent in the classrooms that actually educate children.  To its credit, the plan calls for reducing administrative costs by $750,000/year, which is a good start.  But getting down to Liberty or North Kansas City levels of administrators would involve even deeper cuts than that.

2. How much smaller can the district get?

As the Star reports, the district has shrunk to only 14,228 students.  That doesn’t even put it in the top 10 districts in the state by enrollment.   Peak enrollment (in the early 1970s) was almost 73,000.

3. Students are fleeing in droves to attend public charter schools. Are we going to rethink the organization of the district in response?

As I detailed earlier this week, 41 percent of students within the boundaries of the Kansas City School District attend public charter schools, and enrollment is only growing.  There might be a not-too-distant date in the future when the vast majority of students attend public schools in Kansas City that are not operated by the Kansas City Public Schools.  Taxpayers still have an interest in these schools, and our community should play some role in their governance, but what should that role be?  New Orleans offers an interesting possible future for the city.

4. Does this plan come anywhere close to meeting the needs of the district and the children who live in it?

Probably the most striking thing that I took away from reading the report is just how little it actually wants to do.  Moving a couple of attendance boundaries, closing a high school, creating new programs within existing schools . . . these are things districts have to do all the time to adjust to student movement and community change.  Given the exodus of students, the woeful performance of schools, and the hollowing out of the tax base from tax increment financing, how can that possibly be enough?

About the Author

Michael McShane
Senior Fellow of Education Policy

Mike McShane is Senior Fellow of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.