KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the doors opened for the first day of school Wednesday, about 500 elementary students in the Hickman Mills School District walked into a different building than last year.
The district in Kansas City, Missouri, closed Johnson and Symington elementary schools at the end of last school year. Board members made the move after an incorrect tax revenue prediction left the district with a $5.5 million gap in the budget.
Superintendent Dr. Yolanda Cargile said the decision to close the schools has put the district on track to balance the budget. She used the word "opportunity” when discussing how the school closures are impacting the district. She’s not looking at these closures as a setback, but a chance to make changes within the district to benefit students.
First, she points out her team made people a priority throughout the closures. Closing the schools lead to 21 layoffs, but Cargile said the district called back all affected staff and gave them the option to return to the district before the start of this school year.
"I know how important it is to be able to take care of your family, meet demands, meet bills," Cargile said. "So having the opportunity to recall some of that staff — all of the staff, not some — really felt good to my team and I."
These closures somewhat lead to a larger shift in which students go to which schools. The district moved 6th grade from elementary buildings to the middle schools. It eliminated the freshman center, so 9th through 12th grades are all at Ruskin High School. And leaders took kindergartners out of an early education center and placed those students in elementary schools.
"Now, our kindergartners have the opportunity to see what their older peers are doing and what the expectations are in terms of behavior. So we're excited about that opportunity," Cargile said.
Tuesday, the school board explored whether to sell the buildings. Cargile said staff will review several options.
The bottom line is the budget's bottom line. Cargile said reports from district staff show the budget is on track to meet the school board's goal of having a 15 percent fund balance by the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
Throughout the budget process, the district dedicated funds over the next three years to train teachers on implementing STEAM and project-based learning concepts into every school. The concepts were previously only part of the curriculum at two "choice" schools.
Cargile said expanding the program will benefit students.
"It's all about helping create a better future and we're providing those opportunities for children," she said.