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Normandy Board Skeptical Of New Plans For State Intervention

(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon)

Updated at 10:10 a.m. Jan. 23 to reflect the correct source of one of the three state intervention proposals.

Members of the Normandy school board are skeptical that any of the proposed new plans for state intervention in academically troubled districts will make a difference in their schools.

Officials with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education presented the broad outlines of the plans Wednesday. There was a similar meeting at Riverview Gardens, another unaccredited district currently under state control. There will be a series of public hearings on the plans before the state Board of Education votes on Feb. 10.

The details vary, but all of the plans — one from the Missouri Association of School Administrators,  one from Indianapolis-based CEE-Trust, and one from a partnership between the Missouri Public Charter School Association and the Children's Education Alliance of Missouri — focus on the performance of individual schools, rather than the district as a whole. And that troubled school board member Nancy Hartman.

"The discipline, the whole ball of wax — we're doing so much there as a group of schools, and people working together," she said. "To think that that could all be blown away — it's really almost more than I can bear to think about that possibly happening."

Fellow board member Sheila Williams questioned whether DESE really knew how to best educate students.

"We have been under the DESE authority,"she said. "We have used the processes, we listen to what you guys  say, we try to address those things, and still we don't have the outcomes that are necessary.  I'm wondering why not allow the  school district all of the freedom that you're talking about giving to these schools and get us out from under the authority of DESE that has not helped us achieve the outcomes."

Her comments brought a round of applause. DESE Commissioner Chris Nicastro, who was at the meeting, said Williams' comments went right to the heart of the question the department is trying to address: what is the proper way for the state to intervene in failing schools?

The plans also do not help Normandy address a cash crunch brought on by the expense of paying for students who transferred to accredited districts. Without an infusion of state aid, the district will go bankrupt in April.

That would force the 3,000 students into a new school with about six weeks remaining in the school year. After the meeting, Normandy superintendent Ty McNichols expressed frustration — shared by his students — at the lack of a public plan to address that scenario.

"Kids want to know, are they going to have a graduation here, or somewhere else? They want to know if they’re going to have prom," he said. "And I can’t answer those questions because I can’t get answers other than the quoting of a statute."

Gov. Jay Nixon's budget includes the additional state funding for Normandy, but it requires approval by the Legislature.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.