Yesterday, Kansas City, MO held their elections for school board. It was a pivotal election for a lot of reasons. And coming out of it, there were some very obvious winners and losers. Once that is sorted out, the remaining questions of "what does this mean" will be sorted out.
Winners: Crispn Rea Jr., Kyleen Carroll and Joseph Jackson
They got the most votes (Rea and Carroll as at-large representatives, Jackson in his subdistrict). All three received approximately 73% of the votes (the Star's percent votes are a little misleading because there were only 11,350 voters yesterday, with each being able to vote for 2 candidates).
Winner: Superintendent Covington - Let's face it, KCMO hasn't been kind to school superintendents, churning out a new one about every 18 months for literally the past 50 years. That's part of our problem...no consistent leadership. Last month, Covington announced his plan to "right size" the school district in a move that would close nearly half of the public schools. It's a bold move -- and likely the best one for the students -- but very controversial. The three candidates that won in the election represent the three strongest supporters of the move. With 73% of the voter turnout being in favor of these candidates, it appears as if Covington has a large amount of support from the voting public -- and now of the school board. This should create some much need stability in the school adminstration, which is also a good thing.
Winner: Diversity and perceived racial divide in the school district. The three winners are a white female, a black male and an hispanic male. It's tough to get more diverse than that. Also, Joseph Jackson's election was a sub-district seat in a predominently low-income/black area. The fact that he got nearly an identical percentage of the votes as the At-Large candidates that also supported Covington, helps show that support for the Superintendent, and for the "right-sizing" of the schools is consistent across people of all neighborhoods and races. And that's a good thing.
Winner: Apathy in KC Politics - It could easily be argued that the single biggest factor that is negatively impacting Kansas City, MO South of the River is the schools. Poor education leads to higher crime. It leads to middle income families (who can't afford private schools, but can afford to move) to relocate -- often to the Kansas side of the line -- which hurts housing prices and the tax base for the city. The lower tax revenue impacts virtually all other services like police, roads, snow removal, parks and other things people complain about with the city. There is little that is more important than fixing our schools. And for that -- we got 11,350 voters out to the polls. That's it? Ouch.
Winner: Kansas City Developers - Many of whom intend to redevelop some of the now-empty school buildings into lofts and office space.
It looks like there is now plenty of support for the Superintendent and for his "right-sizing" plan. But a lot of questions remain -- many of which can now get sorted out over the next 6 months.
1) Are we closing too many schools? I get the need to close down quite a few schools as the district has lost half of its students over the past decade. But closing down nearly half the schools seems like a lot. Are we choking off too many schools and then not having room to grow if we are successful and the district starts growing again?
2) Will closing so many schools cause us to lose more students as families choose charter schools in their own neighborhoods...thus causing even more problems?
3) Will closing neighborhood schools decrease neighborhood/parent involvement as they feel like they are moving kids to someone else's neighborhood schools?
4) Will the developers who are redeveloping the old school buildings hold the city hostage for TIF money or other incentives in order to finish off the developments -- or will they sit on the buildings and let them blight neighborhoods?
Overall, I'm supportive of closing down a significant number of the schools. I think it is something that must be done. And over the next few months, the school board, including three new members elected yesterday, are going to get to work through these issues.
I wish them luck. There is little that is more important to the city than getting this right.