The Twilight District, Episode 11

The days leading up to the April 2 Kansas City, Missouri, school board election are pushing the district further into that fifth dimension, where a 25-year-old desegregation lawsuit is “as timeless as infinity.”

On March 18, board members held their regular meeting where voters could see them, at the Southeast Zoo Academy (no, really — that’s the name of the school). Whole families shouted down the panel as President Helen Ragsdale feebly wished they wouldn’t. The angry constituency appeared to be made up of sixth graders and the people who love them too much to send them to one of the district’s horrific middle schools next year. They grew furious when the board wouldn’t immediately create a middle school based on the African-centered model that has produced the district’s top-performing elementary schools.

“We simply said, ‘We want to do the middle school,'” parent Ray Wilson told the board after the panel formally invited comments from the public. “Now we’re telling you we’re going to do it with or without you.”

That might be neither possible nor necessary. Though he voted no, board member Al Mauro said he would vote yes as soon as Superintendent Bernard Taylor abided by federal court orders and explained the middle school proposal to Arthur Benson, the white lawyer who for two and a half decades has reaped legal fees from the district, suing to desegregate the schools for a bunch of “plaintiff students” who at this point in their lives are probably more worried about equality in nursing homes than in schools.

Michael Byrd played to the voters, furtively waving encouragement to the dissidents who had been interrupting the board’s deliberations.

At the end, Wilson tried to soothe the weary board’s feelings. He recalled taking a trip to Jefferson City with the board. “Some senators called you clowns. That upset me,” he said unconvincingly. “Someone else said you were dysfunctional. That upset me.”

We’re upset too. Soon, we’ll have to bid farewell to these dysfunctional clowns. On April 11, in the Paseo High School auditorium, the torch gets passed to a new generation of Kansas City school board members. It’s not so much a torch, though, as a cigarette butt.

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