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Budget for St Louis Public Schools approved with $58 million in cuts

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 29, 2010 - The St. Louis Public Schools have a new budget of nearly $278 million for next school year that calls for $58 million in budget cuts, elimination of 490 positions, closing six school buildings and a number of other measures designed to wipe out a persistent deficit.

Now, school officials have to keep watch to make sure the cuts don't have to go even deeper.

Even as the Special Administrative Board that runs the city schools was approving the new budget by a 2-0 vote -- one member, Richard Gaines, was out of town on business -- Superintendent Kelvin Adams was asked to keep a close eye on possible reduction in local, state and federal funds that could change the budget on a regular basis.

According to the proposals presented two weeks ago and approved Thursday night, the positions of 226 classroom teachers, 80 substitute teachers, 130 school support staff, 24 administrators and 30 members of the central office staff would be eliminated, at a saving of $33.8 million -- by far the largest piece of the deficit-reduction puzzle.

The board was told that at this point, 255 employees have expressed interest in an early retirement incentive program, out of 632 who are eligible, though some of those have also already changed their minds. They have until June 10 to make a final determination.

School closures, which would account for just $800,000 of the budget reductions, include Gallaudet, Bunche, Cleveland Naval Junior ROTC, Alternative Education South at Lyon, Fresh Start Academy at Turner and the Ford Branch after school program site. The displaced students, totaling about 990, would be sent to other schools.

The International Welcome School, which currently teaches students from other countries, would move from its current spot at Central Visual and Performing Arts to Kottmeyer school at 1530 South Grand, in an area where many of the immigrant families that it serves live.

With the projected cuts, student-teacher ratios would increase from the current 13.5 to 1 to 16.2 to 1, which the superintendent noted remains below the state ratio of 17 to 1.

Other money-saving measures adopted as part of the 2010-2011 budget include salary reductions and furloughs, cutbacks at central office, savings in bond and pension programs and energy management savings.

Another batch of changes discussed two weeks ago, using federal school improvement grants to turn around, restart, close or transform underachieving schools, awaits determination by the state of where the grant money will go.

But at least one planned change -- converting Central VPA to a charter school -- will have to be scrapped because state regulations do not allow a charter school to have admissions requirements, as Central does. Others slated for conversion to a charter school, sponsored by the city school system, are Sumner, Ashland and Walbridge.

The meeting, attended by about 175 people at Gateway Middle School, was notable for a lack of discussion or dissension. Adams and Rick Sullivan, head of the Special Administrative Board, pointed out that everyone knew the changes that were coming, so there was little reason to expect disagreement.

Still, they said, with budget cutting going on constantly in Jefferson City, and money from Washington uncertain as well, the budget will be subject to constant scrutiny and possibly constant revision.

"Federal dollars are drying up," Adams said. "State and local dollars are drying up as well."

Adams praised his staff, and Sullivan praised Adams, for the hard work that went into making the cuts that would close a current budget gap that is more than $20 million. Sullivan said that having discussions internally, with school district staff, and externally, with the community, helped ease the rancor that has greeted previous attempts to close schools and cut staff.

"They took the time," he said, "and had careful consideration and planning. No one can say they were surprised by these decisions. They may be disappointed, just like we were, but they cannot be surprised."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.