Forced Closure Possible for Some Missouri School Districts

Forced closure is a possibility for a Missouri school district, and according to St. Louis area school officials, the results could be devastating for students and other school districts.

Education leaders released details of a study on the possibility of a district being forced to close and merge with a neighboring district. The study was specifically focused on the possible closure of Normandy School District in St. Louis County.

Normandy and its neighboring Riverview Gardens district are unaccredited and face a dismal financial future. The state implemented a law this school year that allows students to transfer to better performing schools at the expense of the district. Superintendent Ty McNichols says the district could run out of money as early as April.

Consolidation would entail busing the 4,000 Normandy students to districts farther away. Superintendent of the Pattonville School District, Mike Fulton was involved in the study and says, "The kids of Normandy lose, and the community loses if they don't have community schools,"

According to the study, the accepting district would lose too as property taxes could rise, per student funding would decline, and the overall performance of the district would be reduced due to the lower test scores of the Normandy students.

The study found that nine St. Louis-area districts would go from accredited to provisionally accredited if they accepted Normandy students; three districts would become unaccredited.

Jim Salter with the Associated Press shared that educators developed a plan named "The New Path to Excellence" that states that the state should focus on bettering performance in troubled districts instead of paying to send the students to another school.

Webster Groves School District Superintendent Sarah Riss said the issue is statewide and needs to be acted on "Now". She warns that when new performance standards start in the Fall of 2015, other districts could become provisionally accredited or unaccredited.

The Missouri Board of Education is looking at proposals that are aimed at bettering the struggling school districts performance. An experimental approach in Tennessee may be the answer to Missouri's problem.

The approach is predicated on the controversial assumption that chronic school failure demands a state, rather than a local, response — even if that means usurping elected local control of education.

Elisa Crouch with the St. Louis Post reported on the program. The state takes schools that are in the bottom ranks and places them in the Achievement School District. There the superintendent reports to the state education commissioner. Some districts operate their schools directly and others are matched with nonprofit charter schools.

The goal is to catapult the lowest achieving schools to the state's top 25 percent within five years by using methods that are sometimes fiercely resisted by teachers' unions, such as frequent testing and performance pay for teachers.

With this program one entity oversees a group of schools, with an assortment of operators. The control is shifted leaving the decisions to school educators instead of office administrators. If an operator fails to raise test scores, they are replaced in a few years. The hope is that all schools will succeed, not just a few.

A recent proposal was presented to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that resembles the model in Tennessee. This possibility may help Missouri's troubled school districts.

Currently, district officials are still trying to figure out how to better the academics for the children still attending Normandy and Riverview Garden schools.

 "We need to think about how to rescue those kids," said Peter Herschend, president of the Missouri Board of Education, during a meeting last week in Jefferson City. "Not how to rescue a district, not how to rescue a teacher or superintendent."

02 19, 2014
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