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Riverview Gardens floats idea to help its bottom line — and students who have transferred out

Former Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon discusses the district's progress at a state hearing on May 5, 2016.
Dale Singer
St. Louis Public Radio
Former Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon discusses the district's progress at a state hearing on May 5, 2016.

More than 400 Riverview Gardens students enrolled in other area school districts under Missouri’s transfer law may be able to stay in their current schools until they reach a natural stopping point even if Riverview regains provisional accreditation in December.

As long as Riverview Gardens remains unaccredited, it is required to pay the districts receiving its students tuition equal to the amount of money the receiving district spends per student — in some cases as much as $21,000.

But if the state board of education upgrades Riverview’s accreditation status, as the district hopes, Riverview will no longer be legally obligated to pay.

However, under a proposed plan distributed to receiving school districts this week, Riverview is offering up to $7,000 a student per year so transfer students currently enrolled in their districts can stay until they reach a natural transition. For instance, a third grader could stay at Kirkwood until the end of elementary school.

Districts receiving students as part of the region's voluntary desegregation program are also paid about $7,000 a student by the state.

Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon said the plan is the result of conversations begun with the leadership of the other school districts in the spring.

“We felt it was the right thing to do, and the responsible thing to do, to provide a transition plan for those students that were currently participating in the transfer program, as well as it being the plan that we believe is fiscally responsible for all students and families involved, not only the 435 students transferred but also the 5,400 students that currently reside in and attend Riverview Gardens School District,” Spurgeon said.

From June 2013, when the transfer law was first enforced, until June 2016, Riverview has spent more than $22 million on transfer tuition.

If Riverview Gardens regains provisional accreditation promptly and all districts with Riverview transfer students approve the proposal, Riverview could save almost $800,000 next semester.

The district would still pay for transportation to Kirkwood and Mehlville in the spring, as it does currently at a cost of about $275,000 a semester. But under the proposal, parents would be responsible for transportation to all receiving school districts beginning next school year.

Response from receiving districts

Kirkwood Superintendent Tom Williams and Mehlville Superintendent Chris Gaines are both recommending that their school boards approve the transition plan at their next meetings.

“The kids have been in our schools for four years. They know us. We know them. And we’d like to see especially our high school students finish out,” said Gaines.

Mehlville currently charges Riverview about $7,900 a year for each of its 72 transfer students. Gaines said losing $900 apiece won’t really affect Mehlville’s budget.

Kirkwood charges Riverview about $12,000 a year for each of its transfer students, and currently has about 99 students from Riverview after starting out four years ago with 170.

Despite anticipating a loss of $5,000 a student, Williams said the proposed transition plan will not hurt Kirkwood’s budget either.

“When we place the students we try to disperse them so they don’t increase our costs significantly,” Williams said. “So it’s going to impact our revenue but not necessarily our expenditures.”

“We know it’s the best thing for the students so we’re willing to do that,” Williams added.

Two north St. Louis county school districts near Riverview Gardens also have a lot of Riverview's transfer students: Hazelwood has 76 transfer students and Ferguson-Florissant has 53. 

We tried to reach representatives for Ferguson-Florissant and Hazelwood late Friday afternoon, but they have not yet responded to a request for comment on the proposal. Superintendent Scott Spurgeon said, based on his conversations with his counterparts, he believes they will be amenable.

"After Thanksgiving we should have a clearer picture," Spurgeon said. "But I firmly believe that with the support that I've seen thus far from the leaders in the St. Louis region from all of the receiving districts it's believe its going to be a very positive outcome." 

Transition limits

To take advantage of Riverview's proposed transition plan, students would have to be currently enrolled in the transfer program and live in the Riverview Gardens School District when the districts agree to the proposal. 

Except for students currently in 8th grade, the last school year students will be able to stay at their current district is the 2019-2020 school year. 8th graders will be permitted to graduate from their current district in 2021.

Children entering Kindergarten, including those with older siblings taking advantage of the transfer law, would not be eligible.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

St. Louis Public Radio's Dale Singer contributed to this report.