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Normandy says it can afford to operate schools for another year

File | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 8:30 p.m., June 11: Encouraged by a projected balance of at least 7 percent of the total budget at the end of this school year, Normandy school officials say they will have enough money to operate for the entire school year that begins in August.

At its meeting Thursday night, the district’s appointed Joint Executive Governing Board approved a resolution designed to dispel concerns about Normandy’s ability to survive the year financially, despite the costs of tuition and transportation for students who transfer elsewhere. It also approved a reorganization plan that moves kindergarten students to their own center and moves sixth graders from middle school to elementary schools.

Preliminary budget figures project that with the reorganization, the district would end the coming school year with an operating balance of nearly $3.5 million, or just more than 7 percent.

For the 2013-14 school year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education figures show Normandy ended the year with a fund balance of just $1.5 million, or 2.7 percent. Anything less than 3 percent puts a district into the category of financially stressed.

Even though district estimates for the upcoming school year are positive, projections for the following school year, 2016-17, show an ending balance of just 1.7 percent, under the kindergarten center reorganization plan.

The Normandy board is expected to vote on the final budget at its final meeting of the school year on June 25.

After Thursday evening's meeting, board President Andrea Terhune said she is confident that the changes devised by Superintendent Charles Pearson will lead to improved academic performance.

"We have confidence in Dr. Pearson," she said. "He’s put together a good plan. We’ve talked a lot about the restructuring. We’ve talked a lot about what we’re going to do in order to impact change. We were absolutely against opening up the school year if we had enough money but could not provide good instruction."

She noted that unlike last year, when the newly formed Normandy could not begin hiring teachers until the summer, this year the district has been active in recruiting teachers in the spring, when other schools do the same, so the new staff should be better than before.

"So we believe we’ve done some good things that position us to provide a quality education." Terhune said. "Dr. Pearson would tell you it’s all about execution, right. So that’s what we’ve got to do next, is execution. But we feel good that we’re positioned well to provide good instruction."

Concerns over the district’s finances were a primary reason the state school board voted last year to dissolve the old Normandy school district in favor of the Normandy School Collaborative, which took over on July 1, 2014, under the appointed board.

Originally, the state board oversaw the district’s finances, but late last year, it granted the JEGB greater authority over Normandy’s operations. While state Commissioner Margie Vandeven had said she did not want the district to start classes in the coming year unless it was certain it would have enough money to finish the year, DESE says the final decision on whether to begin the year rests with the Normandy board, not the state.

Earlier estimates had been that if more than 530 Normandy students decide to transfer in the coming school year, the tuition and transportation costs would be too much for the district to bear. At last count, the number of students who want to transfer was at 564, at an estimated cost of $7.5 million; 424 students transferred in the school year now ending, at a cost of $5.8 million.

But in its preliminary budget presented last month, the district said it was transferring money from administration to instruction — $2.6 million so far — in an effort to make better use of the funds it has. District officials called the move a shift from a survival budget to an instructional budget.

Pearson has said the district can also save money if the districts that are receiving transfers from Normandy can provide professional assistance such as data analysis and teacher training. Superintendents from other local districts are reportedly working on a plan to provide such assistance.

Normandy had also hoped for financial relief in the education bill passed by lawmakers in this year’s legislative session, in the form of a cap on the amount of tuition that receiving districts could charge. But the bill, HB42, has no such cap. Gov. Jay Nixon has not said whether he will sign the bill, only that he plans to study it closely.

The reorganization plan proposed by Pearson would reopen Bel-Nor elementary school, which was closed last year in a cost-cutting move, to house the kindergarten center. Reopening the building would cost an estimated $525,000. Other costs, included additional staff and services and supplies, would add another $1 million to the cost of the center.

Also at Thursday night’s meeting, the Normandy board voted to hire three new principals: Andrew Miller at Normandy Middle School, Pam Hollins at Washington elementary and Shantana Herd at the district’s early childhood center.

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.