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Commentary: School Transfer Fairness

Courtesy of Beyond Housing
Commentator Chris Krehmeyer

A recent decision by the Normandy School District will set the stage for the state and our region to address the financial aspect of the student transfer law.   Whether or not you agree with their decision, Normandy was not in any financial trouble before the transfer ruling and was in full compliance of state standards of fiscal soundness.  So how did we get here?

School districts set their individual rates of tuition; Normandy’s is around $12,000 per student. However, as a part of the transfer program, Normandy is required to pay the tuition rate of each receiving school district, which can get as high as over $19,000 in a district like Clayton. The immediate challenge, in a scenario like this, is that there is an over $7,000 funding gap per student that Normandy is required to finance without receiving any corresponding revenue to offset this expense. As a further strain, the transportation costs to send over 450 children to Francis Howell schools are estimated to cost the district nearly $1,500,000 this school year.  All of this suggests that even after staff reductions and a school closure,  which were approved at the same October 24th meeting,  and other expense cuts, Normandy could be out of funds before this school year ends.

Now, to further understand, let’s breakdown the tuition costs for the receiving school district.  Any receiving district clearly has some additional costs due to this program, but they certainly do not equate to a full tuition payment of anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000 per child.  Receiving school districts were allowed to set a per classroom cap to ensure that the quality of education in their schools stay at their standards.  This cap also ensured that the receiving district’s cost are incremental, meaning no new large expenses such as teachers or buildings were needed.  Essentially, Normandy children are filling otherwise empty chairs in the classrooms of the receiving districts.  Normandy also has to carry all it’s existing fixed costs on debt and other expenses that cannot be cut with a loss of 25% of their revenue that is sent to the receiving districts.

Receiving districts certainly should not have any negative financial consequences due to the transfer law, but fairness also suggests that the sending district should not be forced into insolvency to simply build the balance sheet of another district. Now is the time for all of us to work together on solving our regional problem of providing the best education to all of children.  We must call on our legislators and civic leaders to create a more equitable and sustainable funding model now.  Before it is too late let’s do the right thing and work together to serve all of our children.