Hickman Mills School District considers closing schools amid budget crunch

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Hickman Mills School District is struggling financially and is considering closing schools to help balance the budget.

Most recently the district was hurt by a loss of tax revenue it thought it was going to get from Cerner, but the story really goes back to 30 years of declining enrollment.

District leaders met with parents and staff Wednesday night to paint a bleak picture. A recent demographic study revealed a 30 percent decrease in the number of students in the district. There are about 5,400 now, with room for an additional 1,900 students in the district’s classrooms.

But even though nearby Cerner is expected to add thousands of jobs in the next decade, the study projects the district will lose about another 1,000 students by 2028.

“Could there possibly be school closings? Possibly, so that is the work the district administration is working collaboratively to look at what the options are in terms of meeting that 15 percent fund balance goal,” Hickman Mills Superintendent Dr. Yolanda Cargile said.

The district’s reserve fund was depleted this year when Cerner’s tax evaluation was later lowered by $40 million, $2.4 million of which would have gone to the school district.

Anamarie Rebori Simmons, a spokesperson for Cerner issued the following statement:

“We have a long-standing relationship with the Hickman Mills School District and continue to make investments in valuable tools and resources designed to prepare students for STEM careers and workforce readiness. This school year, Hickman Mills students have directly benefitted from the redirection of some of the Tax Increment Financing Plan (TIF) funds due to Cerner. These funds were sent directly to the school district, including resources to buy devices for each student, as well as the ability to continue their robotics program. As we continue and ultimately complete construction, we are committed to ensuring the school district receives the fixed amount annually they are due until the conclusion of the TIF agreement.”

Cargile stressed she won’t cut any programs that would hurt the district’s goal of getting full accreditation. So it’s more likely a building or two could be heading for the chopping block.

The superintendent acknowledged that could mean laying off teachers, but she promised they would be given plenty of notice to find new jobs if it comes to that.

“It could be a good thing. I know that would maximize money, so I get it. I just want to know how it’s going to be done. I just want to know that there’s a solid plan in place for the changes,” parent Lashawna Allen said.

Another forum is planned for Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. at Ruskin High School. A final vote would likely come at the district’s Feb. 21 School Board of Director’s meeting.

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