News flash: Elma Warrick is confused.

Kansas City Strip 

News flash: Elma Warrick is confused.

The Twilight District, Episode 5: Elma Warrick fought mightily September 19 to uncover the diabolical plot behind Missouri's finding that five Kansas City schools are academically deficient. The school board member unsheathed her favorite weapon -- condescension -- but found it had been dulled by overuse.

"I'm just confused," Warrick saccharinely declared time and again to Marilou Joyner, the state education official who'd drawn the short straw and had to report the state's findings to the board. But Warrick stopped short of deploying her "rural racist redneck" theory about the state's involvement in the schools, leaving the heckler-heavy audience to deduce that Warrick was, indeed, confused. "Get it yet?" came a shout as Warrick paused to collect her thoughts midsentence. "Are you still confused?" asked another visitor.

Fellow board member Michael Byrd fretted about the perception that "These are the worst schools in the worst district in the state" and forced Joyner to acknowledge that the state hadn't actually proven that the five are the worst in the state. Certainly, they're among the thirty worst, but who knows whether they're the worst of the worst, or the best of the worst? With that reassuring revelation made public, let's brace for a stampede of students into Kansas City's Central High, Central Middle, Northeast High, Southeast High and King Middle schools.

Duane Kelly worried that the state's school-improvement consultants won't be as competent as the teachers who have ridden these deficient schools into the academic ditch. "If these people don't know what they're talking about, what good is it going to do for any of them to have three or four days in the schools?" Kelly asked. "What good is that advice going to be?"

But the board's angry audience seemed to want more from the state than mere consultants. When one mom declared that the state should take over the entire district and the administration building should be leveled, cheers drowned out groans -- even though the World Trade Center collapse was only a week in the past.

And Sunday morning, state auditor Claire McCaskill appeared on KMBC Channel 9's "This Week in Kansas City" with an answer to Kelly's question: "I'm not sure the state could do any better. But as some cynics would say, I'm not sure it could do any worse."

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