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Mayor James fields questions from high school students at annual address

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KCPT’s Nick Haines moderates student town hall with Mayor Sly James and students from Park Hill High School.

After his State of the City address, Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James answered questions from a constituency that he wants to hear more from: students.

“It’s because the progress we make as a city not only impacts the residents of today, but for generations to come,” said Mayor James towards the beginning of his address, which was hosted this year at Park Hill High School. “High school students may make up five percent of our population, but they make up 100 percent of our future.”

Questions from five Park Hill High School seniors were selected out of dozens of student submissions by the school’s principal for inclusion in a student-led town hall moderated by KCPT’s Nick Haines.

Sitting at the front of the auditorium before the address as fellow students and media filed in, Rachel Winders and Blake Nave agreed that they were more nervous about speaking in front of their peers than asking the mayor a question in front of TV cameras.

Winders was excited to ask her question, which was inspired by an extracurricular activity.

“It’s not every day that you get to ask the mayor a question that’s on your mind,” said Winders, who asked the mayor how the city can help address the disparities in pay that women face.

“It’s (a topic) near to my heart because I work with the Women’s Foundation,” said Winders, who works on the foundation’s Rachel Alexandra Girls Grant Project, which funds nonprofit women’s organizations. “I knew exactly what I was going to ask as soon as I heard about the question.”

Mayor James responded by talking about his Women’s Empowerment Initiative (WE), which, in the past few months, has released research showing that in city government the problem has more to do with women’s positions and access to leadership roles than just salary.

KCPT’s Nick Haines and director Kevin Lambi review logistics for student town hall with Kansas City Mayor Sly James and five Park Hill High School Seniors. (Photo by Gary Brock)

The other questions included addressing teen disturbances on the Plaza, bringing the Republican National Convention to KC, possible changes to Missouri’s “stand your ground” law and how the earnings tax benefits people living in the Northland.

“I thought ‘when am I going to get another chance to ask the mayor a question and be able to do it in front of my own peers?’ It was an amazing experience,” said Nave, who asked about the earnings tax.

“(The earnings tax) is something that affects all of us. Everyone pays their taxes, and people want to know where that stuff goes,” he said. “I know being a high school senior, I have a job now. So I’m paying taxes, and I want know how does that benefit where I’m at today.”

In response to Nave’s question, Mayor James explained how the earnings tax contributes to the city’s general fund, which pays for services like the police and fire department. He listed a number of recent tax-funded infrastructure projects in the Northland.

About 400 Park Hill juniors and seniors were in the audience during the Mayor’s address and student town hall, and all Kansas City high schools were encouraged to watch KCPT’s live stream of the speech.

Major Funding for Education coverage on KCPT provided by Jo Anna Dale and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

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