Superintendent proposes closing six schools in Kansas City, Mo.

? Faced with a declining enrollment caused by the flight of thousands of students to charter schools, the city schools’ superintendent has proposed closing six schools, relocating four others and reducing some programs.

“We have a demanding task ahead of us, but it is not an impossible task,” Kansas City School Superintendent Bernard Taylor told the city school board at a special budget meeting Wednesday night. “We must look out for what is in the district’s best interest as a whole.”

In the five years since the first charter school opened in Kansas City, an estimated 6,000 students have left the district for the independently operated schools. One of five children living within the school district’s boundaries currently attend charter schools. The school district said its enrollment this year is 28,559.

Taylor is looking for savings of $20 million in the district’s $324 million budget, and the school closings would save about $3.3 million a year. Officials said that because of normal attrition, no teachers or staff members would lose their jobs under the proposal.

The district now operates 47 elementary schools, eight middle schools, seven high schools and seven alternative schools.

The plan would downsize the district’s African-centered education and Montessori programs. The three African-centered schools — two elementary and a middle school — would be closed, and the programs joined at another location. The three Montessori schools would be combined.

Also, students from two schools would move to a middle school that closed last year, and one of the buildings now used for a Montessori school would be closed a year for remodeling, later reopening as a new elementary school without a specific theme.

One board member, Marilyn Simmons, said the closing plan would leave too many vacant buildings in the inner city, fostering more crime.

“All I can see is devastation,” she said. “Why does the African-American community have to continue taking hits for this school district?”

But two other board members, Bill Eddy and David Smith, said the proposal deserves serious consideration.

“There are a lot of questions yet unanswered,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, we are one district.”

Zandra Nelson, who heads an advisory committee for the African-centered middle school, predicted parents would picket the proposal, which will be the subject of community meetings. Taylor wants the board to vote March 23.