KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 11 (UPI) -- The Kansas City, Mo., school board decided Wednesday night to close 26 of the city's 59 public schools to keep the district afloat financially.
The board voted 5-4 to approve Superintendent John Covington's plan to close the schools as part of an effort to cut $50 million from the district's budget, The Kansas City Star reported.
The boardroom overflowed with hundreds of parents and community activists, many of them angered by the closings.
Enrollment in the city's public schools has fallen to about 17,400, half what it was a decade ago and a small fraction of the 75,000 students in the district's late-1960s peak, the Star said. Declining enrollments in recent years have led to continual state budget cuts, worsening the cash crunch.
The board split largely on racial lines, with the four white members voting in favor, joined by one black member, but board President Marilyn Simmons urged people not to make race an issue.
However, Oscar Bolton, the parent of city school students and the leader of a district anti-gang program, called the racial breakdown disturbing.
"How many kids in the district look like those four white males you see there (who voted for the plan)?" he said. "You can't speak for my children if you haven't been through what they've been through."
The closings are part of the superintendent's plan to reduce the deficit and improve student performance, in part by keeping only the best teachers and bringing them together in fewer schools in a district where less than one in three elementary students read at or above grade level.