News

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Dr. Fred Czerwonka, on paid administrative leave for the past 90 days as superintendent of the St. Joseph School District, abruptly resigned late Friday night.

But in one final twist to his rocky tenure, Czerwonka's letter of resignation was not sent to school board members but to the St. Joseph News Press.

"I hope my resignation can allow the District to move forward with the hiring of my successor. I look forward to continuing the good work I have been put here by God to do," Czerwonka wrote in a letter address to board president Brad Haggard.

Jen Chen / KCUR

Kashif Tufail is the owner of Chai Shai, a little Pakistani restaurant on the corner of 59th Street and Holmes in Brookside. Besides all the neighborhood regulars, it’s become a gathering spot for Pakistani students at UMKC. 

And before they eat, Tufail says they always ask him, “Are these samosas as good as my mom's?"

“And I say, 'Yeah, I believe so.'”

Once they eat them, and agree on how good they are, Tufail reveals, “You know who’s samosas those are? Those are my mom’s.”

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Next week Kansas lawmakers will resume hammering out a budget for next year and trying to fill a $400 million deficit over the next two years.

But school districts all over the state are already feeling some pain.

Lower than expected revenue has already resulted in school budgets being cut for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

A new tally from the Kansas Association of School Boards shows 26 districts across the state that have either cut spending or anticipates doing so in the next eight weeks.

randychiu/Flickr -- CC

Food trends come and go, but some dishes cycle back, either in traditional or updated form. Like meatloaf — would you like it with a ketchup glaze or topped with Marsala sauce? Whether you consider it retro, classic or timeless, these old-timey dishes are making a comeback on local menus.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

As a child, David Beecham’s disabilities were so severe his family couldn’t care for him.

“When he was born, he didn’t have any muscles in his face, so the doctors had to make him a face,” said Linda Lock, executive director at Brown County Developmental Services (BCDS) in Hiawatha. “His family kept him as long as they could, but his mom died, his dad remarried, and with five kids they felt like they couldn’t keep him.”

Beecham, now 67, spent much of his childhood and early adult years living in nursing homes.

courtesy: Lyric Opera of Kansas City

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City announced this week, just days after the season finale of Tosca, that artistic director Ward Holmquist is out of a job — one he's held since 1998. 

"Lyric Opera of Kansas City is reorganizing along the lines of standard industry structure for the purpose of improved effectiveness and efficiency in our operation and has eliminated the position of Artistic Director. Lyric Opera of Kansas City today announces the departure of Artistic Director Ward Holmquist. We thank him for his years of service," Board chair Kenneth Hager said in a statement issued Thursday.

File: Kathleen Masterson / Harvest Public Media

As the number of farms hit with avian flu grows over to 100 nationwide, regulators are implementing containment plans meant to stop the virus’ spread, spare millions of at-risk birds and thousands of poultry farms.

  Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees also asked the Obama Administration to direct the USDA to allocate more money toward compensating growers that have lost flocks to avian flu.  

Some digital signs will be allowed in Kansas City, Missouri residential neighborhoods under an ordinance passed Thursday. 

The battle went on for nearly two years, according to ordinance sponsor Councilman Ed Ford. Churches and schools said the new signs were modern, convenient and efficient. Homeowners worried that they could be glaring, garish and constantly changing.

Ford said the compromise ordinance allows the signs at institutions with 15-acre sights (10 acres on busy thoroughfares).

C.J. Janovy / KCUR

There aren’t many places in town where an exceptionally talented high school musician can play a concert next to a professional. But that’s what the Midwest Chamber Ensemble has been doing for three years now.

Many of the ensemble's 35 musicians are students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, but others from all over the community — many quite young.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

In 1961, in the heat of the civil rights movement, black and white college students rode buses through the South to challenge segregated public transportation. These "Freedom Riders" are the subject of a new play being staged by the University of Missouri-Kansas City's theater department. It's a collaboration between students, several playwrights, a director, and a choir. They hope to inspire a conversation about how the lessons of the past can have meaning in the present. 

C.J. Janovy / KCUR

In Salina, along the railroad tracks, in the shadow of grain elevators, next to a gravel lot filled with industrial propane tanks, is the headquarters of Acoustic Sounds.

It’s run by Chad Kassem. He’s originally from Louisiana.

“Back in the mid-’70s every teenage boy had a stereo, or most of the boys in my neighborhood had a stereo, and maybe a hundred albums,” Kassem says. “So I wasn’t any more of a collector than most of my friends.”

By the time he was 21, though, Kassem’s drinking and drug abuse was causing him trouble with the law.

“I came to Kansas to get sober in 1984. That’s where the judge picked.”

As we know, Kansas has alcohol, but in general, there were fewer distractions for a man who needed to dry out.

Dirk Duckhorn/Flickr -- CC

La Crosse, Kansas is serious about barbed wire — it's the home to the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum and it even trademarked the phrase: "The Barbed Wire Capital of the World."

This weekend, La Crosse hosts the Antique Barbed Wire Swap & Sell, an annual event where collectors gather to buy, sell and trade the spiky, thorny wire.

The Kansas Barbed Wire Museum — the first barbed wire museum in the country— has a special relationship with Kansas: It's where the collecting hobby really took off in 1967. According to Brad Penka, president of the museum, there are so many different varieties of barbed wire and some are unique.

Elle Moxley / KCUR

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had harsh words for lawmakers who want to enact lifetime limits on the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Speaking at Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City, Missouri, Thursday morning, Nixon called Senate Bill 24 "a misguided measure that punishes poor children in the legislature's zeal to reduce reliance on government assistance."

Lawmakers want to cap TANF benefits at 45 months. Currently, families are eligible for five years of benefits.

Ryan Hyde / Flickr--CC

First things first: Are you ready for the weekend? OK, that’s a silly question. But how might you get the most out of it?

Fortunately, several singular pleasures can help make the first weekend in May a memorable one – whether you’re a fine-art lover or a comic-book fan, a follower of the “Piano Man” or an admirer of the animal kingdom. And if you like merrymaking powered by Mexican-American entertainment and food? Then you’re in luck, my friend.

Be among the first to take part.

1. First Friday in the Crossroads

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

Danette K. Wilson took over as president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City in January, taking the reins from David Gentile, who stepped down for health reasons.

Blue KC provides health coverage to more than one million residents in the greater Kansas City area, including Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas and 30 counties in northwest Missouri.

Wilson has been with Blue KC for more than 25 years, serving in many capacities, including as chief marketing officer.

The NFL Draft takes place Thursday night, and a Kansas City area high school graduate was projected to be among the early picks. That is, until the news came out this week about Shane Ray being pulled over on I-70 and cited for marijuana possession.

Ray, a defensive lineman from Bishop Miege High School, was honored two weeks ago by the Kansas City Sports Commission for his three-year career at the University of Missouri. At that time, he was asked about the NFL Draft.

Frank Morris / KCUR

Remember last year, when the Kansas City Royals were the underdog darlings of baseball? The team’s winning again this season, but it’s been a bit ugly.

Opposing pitchers have hit Royals players 20 times, including a nasty one Alcides Escobar caught in the head Wednesday night. The Royals have hit six in return. Umpires have already ejected Royals players nine times, the most in baseball, and two recent series culminated in bench-clearing brawls. The numbers reflect a fundamental issue: The Royals keep running afoul of baseball's unwritten rules.

A proposal to require Kansas City, Missouri building owners to make energy efficiency figures on the buildings public met mixed reactions at a city council committee hearing Wednesday. 

The plan would require owners to compile energy usage figures and submit them to the city or face a fine for not doing so. Proponents representing environmental groups, civic groups and some building owners said the ordinance would further enhance Kansas City's image as a sustainability-focused community while helping to improve air quality, reduce energy use and make lower rents possible for many low or fixed income apartment dwellers.

Americasroof / Wikimedia -- CC

A Kansas City council committee took the next step in an attempt to sell Kemper Arena Wednesday. 

The plans, zoning and economic development approved a basic schedule for sending out requests for proposals. The invitations would go out next month, with 90 days for responses to come in. 

Chair Ed Ford said to try to get as many offers as possible the city shouldn't put many restrictions on intended use for the old arena.

"We may get someone who wants to put in a beer garden or a mega-church or move it to the riverfront and make an aquarium," he quipped.

Matteo Merzi / Flickr-CC

Kansas City isn't exactly known for being a pedestrian friendly city. Downtown is overcrowded by parking lots, there have been books written about the city's automobile obsession, and it still only has a "bronze" rating from the League of American Bicyclists for its cycling friendliness.

But there are still Kansas Citians who go against the grain and make it a point to walk. In a conversation with Central Standard's Gina Kaufmann Wednesday, Pedestrian Path blogger Rhianna Weilert said her breaking point came after her car was totaled in a hit-and-run accident.

A former overseer of Leavenworth’s wastewater treatment plant says solid waste was dumped by the truckload onto the ground behind the plant and eventually washed into the Missouri River.

The incendiary allegation was contained in a whistleblower lawsuit unsealed Monday. The suit was filed in federal court in October by Michele Coffman, a former assistant superintendent of the plant who resigned in October 2013.

Wikimedia -- CC

Testing the complete DNA of critically ill infants can lead to significant changes in treatment strategy, according to a newly published article by researchers at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Genetic diseases are the leading cause of mortality in infants, according to Dr. Laurel K. Willig, a Children’s Mercy pediatric nephrologist and a lead author of the study.

She says many of these diseases may go undiagnosed, however, because of inadequate testing of critically ill newborns.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

In March, for the first time, the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival staged a production not at Southmoreland Park in Midtown Kansas City, Missouri, but indoors, at Johnson County Community College’s Polsky Theatre.

Working without having to worry about rain, bugs, and people walking their dogs made the festival’s typical technical challenges a breeze, says executive artistic director Sidonie Garrett.

Kristin Conard

Spring is finally here and outdoor enthusiasts around the Midwest are ready to hit the trails and take in some fresh air. Acccording to authors Jonathan and Kristin Conard, the Great Plains offers a wide variety of hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trails, ranging from simple beginner paths to more advanced ones. 

Johnson County Museum

Drive around some of Johnson County’s neighborhoods and you may be able to guess when the neighborhood was developed — based on the architecture alone.

Following World War II, ranch houses were being built at record levels. The single-story, open concept style was the perfect starter home for new families.

“It was the first house ever to be mass produced in the United States,” said Mary Van Balgooy.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Top officials of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs say they are directly monitoring a staffing shortage that has left a Topeka facility unable to provide emergency care for more than a year.

Speaking at a health journalism conference last week in Santa Clara, Calif., VA Secretary Robert McDonald outlined the host of challenges he faces in reforming the embattled medical system.

Frank Morris / KCUR

As Kansas state government braces for another round of budget cuts or tax increases (or both) to balance the state’s declining revenue, Wyandotte County is looking forward to a big jump in tax collections. That’s just part of the county’s profound, if spotty, change of fortunes.

Death spiral

Twenty years ago, Carol Marinovich became mayor of a city in steep decline. The Kansas City, Kansas she grew up in was collapsing. The house she grew up in, along with half her Strawberry Hill neighborhood, had long since been bulldozed to make way for I-70. But that was far from the worst of it. Wyandotte County seemed locked in a death spiral. 

Jeremy Bernfeld / KCUR

What does the U.S. Supreme Court decision on extending marriage benefits to same-sex couples, expected in late June, mean for Missouri and Kansas?

For months, the hodgepodge of counties where gay couples may – or may not – get a marriage license in both states has been confusing. That’s thanks to numerous court decisions on both sides of the state line. Most of the rulings overturned laws that bar gay couples from marrying, so licenses have been allowed in some counties.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Spencer Theatre, the main stage for Kansas City Repertory Theatre, opened in 1979 on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. The interior was updated with new seats in 2002, but over the past three decades, other changes have been limited. Starting May 18, however, a $5.5 million renovation gets underway. 

"It is my pleasure to welcome all of you today to the lobby of the Spencer Theatre, which six months from now will look significantly different than it does today," Scott Boswell, chair of the Rep's board of directors, said to a crowd of supporters and UMKC faculty and staff on Monday morning. 

Naveen Vaidya, a math professor at UMKC, woke up in the middle of the night from a phone call from one of his relatives in the U.S. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake had hit his home country of Nepal, where his mother and sisters live.

"That's really one of the biggest moments in my life," said Vaidya. "I tried to call Nepal continuously for two or three days but it was really hard to get in touch with them."

He made occasional contact online but phone and internet have been unreliable. On Monday morning he was finally able to see his family's faces via Skype. 

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