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Normandy Seeks Court Order Blocking State Takeover

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture
The gates of Normandy High School, one of the institutions in the Normandy School District.

The Normandy School District filed a motion Friday seeking to block the state’s takeover of the district as of June 30 and its replacement by a new Normandy Schools Collaborative run by a state-appointed board.

The motions, filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court, also seek to block payment of tuition bills estimated at more than $2 million for April and May to accredited school districts that received students transferring from Normandy. And it seeks to free up money to pay for the suit that had been blocked by state education officials, who control Normandy’s finances.

A hearing on the motion was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. next Friday in Clayton.

The state board voted at its meeting last month in Columbia to lapse the Normandy district as of the end of June and replace it the next day with the new entity. At the state board's meeting in Jefferson City next week, it is expected to name at least some of the members of an appointed board that will run the new Normandy.

Earlier, the board had taken over the district’s finances as one of the conditions under which the state would appropriate emergency funds so Normandy would not go bankrupt before the end of the school year that was just completed.

In its motions, which were an addition to an earlier suit filed to stop the state takeover and to challenge the state’s transfer law, the plaintiffs — including several Normandy residents as well as the district itself — said the state takeover is illegalbecause Missouri law requires two years of a district’s being unaccredited before such action can be taken. Normandy lost its accreditation as of Jan. 1, 2013.

In addition, the motion said that the state board of education failed to hold “any type of hearing at which parties testified under oath or in which the district was allowed to present opposing evidence or contest the state board’s facts, reasoning or decision.”

The motion added:

“Normandy School District and its attending students will suffer immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage if the Missouri State Board of Education, state of Missouri and DESE are not enjoined from lapsing the district.”

Establishment of the new district, it said, would “substantially disrupt and harm the administration of educational services for children attending or planning to attend district schools for the 2014-2015 school year. Due to the chaos and uncertainty created by a lapse and state takeover, more students can be expected to transfer out of the district, further exacerbating the district’s financial condition due to continuing payments of millions of dollars in tuition and transportation expenses.”

Additionally, the filing said, because all of the contracts of current Normandy teachers and other employees will lapse as of June 30, that action “will cause many district teachers and other employees to seek other employment and may leave little or no time for the district to hire new staff needed to operate the school system. Any new special administrative board would have the impossible task in less than two months to prepare for a new school year, hire or rehire an entire group of teachers and staff for the whole district, determine financial needs, budget, plan a curriculum and initiate steps for attempting to make academic progress or the district and its students.”

Finally, the motion said that the creation of the new Normandy run by a state-appointed board would “unlawfully eliminate the district’s current Board of Education publicly elected by voters.” As a result, it said, “Normandy School District cannot be compensated for the losses associated with the unlawful attempt to lapse the district effective June 30, 2014, because the lapse would eliminate the Normandy School District and its publicly appointed Board of Education, and substantially harm the educational services offered to children attending district schools.”

The filing also said that to allow the state “to withhold funding and remove the existing duly publicly elected school board is unlawful and retaliatory conduct that violates the free speech rights of the public comprising the board (including plaintiff William H. Humphrey [president of the elected board] ) who have spoken by their votes and are trying to speak in this legal action on behalf of the district and themselves.”

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is reviewing the motion and will be referring the matter to the Attorney General’s office.

Though the transfer law, approved in 1993, has been upheld twice by the Missouri Supreme Court – most recently last June, which set off the transfer scramble for the just-completed school year – the lawsuit filed by Normandy last month brought up the two basic arguments at issue in that case: whether the law imposed an unfunded mandate on sending districts, in violation of the Hancock amendment, and whether it created a situation impossible to comply with.

Richard Ulrich, an attorney for Normandy, explained last month that while those issues had been addressed by the Supreme Court in its unanimous ruling last year, they really hadn’t been tested. Now that the events of the past year show the drastic financial consequences on Normandy, he said, it was reasonable for the court to consider them again.

Many details under which the new state-formed Normandy school entity would operate have yet to be determined. Last week, Chris Nicastro, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said she would recommend that the new district have no accreditation status at all.

She also said she would recommend that tuition to be paid by Normandy to districts that receive transfer students be capped at about $7,200, the same amount that is paid to districts that accept students transferring from the city of St. Louis under the voluntary desegregation program.

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.