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With No Discussion, Normandy Board OKs Tuition Bills

Normandy website
Normandy Superintendent Ty McNichols

As opposed to the negative vote and heated discussion back in October, Thursday night's bills won approval without any comment, though one member voted no.

The issue was the same, but the atmosphere – and the vote – were quite different Thursday night at the Normandy school board.

Far from the emotional discussion that members had at their meeting in October when the board voted to reject bills for transportation and tuition of students who transferred from Normandy schools to nearby accredited districts – votes that were later reversed – this time around the issue didn’t merit a word of discussion before the bills were approved by the board on a vote of 5-1.

Once again, the dissenting vote came from board member Terry Artis, who joined the meeting via computer from Dubai. But even his negative opinion was voiced with just a one-word “no,” not the “hell, no” that he said when the board reversed itself last month and approved $1.3 million in tuition bills from September. They had earlier decided to pay the transportation bills as well.

School officials did not have available Thursday night the amount of the October bills that were approved by the board. They said Friday that the bills totaled nearly $1.2 million.

The earlier rejection of both sets of bills did not have much practical effect. State education officials had said that if bills went unpaid for two months, money from Jefferson City that would have gone to Normandy would instead be paid directly to the districts that had received the transfer students.

But the vote against paying the bills was seen as a protest by the district, which is projected to run out of money by the spring unless the legislature goes along with a request for an emergency infusion of $6.8 million sought by the state school board. That request has not met with much enthusiasm from lawmakers.

The Normandy board’s approval of the latest round of bills is far from an approval of the ongoing student transfers, if comments by students, teachers and members of the community at a meeting Wednesday night are any indication.

That meeting, the second in Normandy convened by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, was designed to let state education officials hear suggestions on what can be done to help struggling school districts. The overwhelming sentiment was that the state can best help Normandy by giving it more time and by stopping the transfers and the financial drain they have brought.

At Thursday night’s board meeting, Superintendent Ty McNichols praised the smaller but still vocal crowd that had shown up the night before. He noted that the first meeting called by DESE, last month, had included little time for public comments, so he wasn’t surprised at the sparse turnout for the second session.

But McNichols thanked those people who did come out.

“I think a lot of people thought, why should I go through that song and dance” after the brief time allotted for public comments the month before.

This time around, he added, “a lot of people got the opportunity to say what they wanted to say. The one thing I took away, if nothing else is that our community is committed to our schools.”

Despite the looming threat of Normandy going out of business, the board continued its review of school accountability plans, hearing from the heads of the district’s Barack Obama Elementary School, its Positive Alternative Learning Center and its Early Childhood Center.

Most of the news was good, in terms of increased attendance, fewer disciplinary problems and somewhat higher achievement scores.

Board members also heard evaluations of grants at the Early Childhood Center. McNichols noted that students come out of the program readier for kindergarten than they would be without the center but not necessarily as well prepared as they would be if they had attended private daycare.

To celebrate the fact that students show up when they are supposed to, center director Kathryn Garrett treated the board to an impromptu rendition to a rap number the kids sing, saying they are H.O.T. – here and on time.

At the same meeting where they initially rejected the tuition and transportation bills, board members had approved the closing of Bel-Nor Elementary School and the layoffs of more than 100 teachers and staff members.

Since that time, McNichols said Thursday night, about 10 teachers have been called back to their jobs because of retirements and the departure of some participants in Teach for America, who went to other districts. The board also had approved an early retirement incentive, which has been taken by eight teachers and about as many non-certified staff members.

To help Bel-Nor students adjust to their new schools second semester, the return to class after winter break has been delayed by a day, to Jan. 8. Parents at the school are in the process of receiving information about their children’s new assignment, and at least one school, Lucas Crossing, is planning a “welcome-palooza” event to help the students from Bel-Nor feel at home. 

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.