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Riverview Gardens school transfer program dwindles

Second-grade students at Koch Elementary School in the Riverview Gardens school district listen to a book reading Thursday.
File photo | Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Second-grade students at Koch Elementary School in the Riverview Gardens School district listen to a book reading in March.

A new, voluntary version of the Riverview Gardens’ school transfer program is serving just a fraction of the students enrolled the year before.

Although Riverview is no longer legally obligated to pay for students to attend other school districts,it made arrangementswith several schools to let students remain where they are for up to four years.

But with fewer districts participating on the receiving end and no bus transportation, the new program is serving a quarter of the students who were enrolled last school year.

This school year 114 students transferred, compared to 430 the year before.

DeAnne Toussaint’s son, Jayven, and daughter, Charlie, are two of the nearly 300 students no longer enrolled in Riverview’s transfer program, but not because Toussaint wanted it that way. The districts where her children were attended decided not to accept Riverview Gardens' offer to pay about $7,000 per student instead of the higher tuition the district previously had to pay.

Toussaint recently moved to Florissant to keep her children in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, even though she owns a home in the Riverview Gardens district. Last year she considered  home-schooling her children.

DeAnne Toussaint's son Jayven and daughter Charlie are both 11.
Credit Provided by DeAnne Toussaint
DeAnne Toussaint's son, Jayven, is in seventh grade and her daughter, Charlie, is in eighth grade.

“Financially it’s very tough, but I figure it’s better to pay a high rent and have my children get a decent education,” Toussaint said.

She is trying to find a renter for her house in Riverview, but right now she’s paying both her mortgage and rent on her new place.

The state board of education upgraded Riverview Garden’s performance rankingin January from unaccredited to provisionally accredited, ending the district’s obligation under Missouri law to pay for students to transfer.

Under the law, Riverview had to pay districts receiving transfer students the full amount the receiving districts spent per pupil, as much as $21,000.

Riverview Gardens has spent more than $23 million complying with the student transfer law since June 2013, when the Missouri Supreme Court upheld it.

The Normandy School District still is required to comply with the law, as it is still unaccredited.

Of the 22 school districts with Riverview Garden transfer students in 2016, 14 signed agreements with Riverview, assistant superintendent Chaketa Riddle said.

Riddle said three nearby districts, Hazelwood, Pattonville and Ritenour, which had a combined transfer enrollment of 108 in 2016-2017, did not sign agreements.

Ferguson-Florissant, which had 53 transfer students last year, only allowed high school seniors to stay this year.

Riddle said enrollment is up at Riverview Gardens this school year, but not because transfer students returned.

“Our numbers have increased annually,” Riddle said, adding that students often move in and out of the district because their housing is in flux. “It would be my understanding or belief that some students have transferred back into the district, some families move out of the district … and some may attend private schools.”

Riverview Gardens is also no longer paying for bus transportation to the school districts it selected when the transfer law was upheld, Kirkwood and Mehlville.

Shammara Smith's son, Ahmon, is a sophomore at Oakville High. Her daughter, Ahmiya, is in fifth grade at Blaze Elementary in the Mehlville school district.
Credit Provided by Shammara Smith
Shammara Smith's son, Ahmon, is a junior at Oakville High. Her daughter, Ahmiya, is in sixth grade in the Mehlville school district.

Kirkwood and Mehlville are participating in the transfer program, but their enrollment of students from outside their attendance areas has dropped precipitously. Kirkwood had 100 students last year, and 55 this year. Mehlville went from 71 to 12.

Shammara Smith kept her kids at Mehlville, but she said it has involved a lot of sacrifice in both time and money.

“We leave at 6:15 (in the morning),” Smith said, traveling from north St. Louis County to south St. Louis County. “I have to be at work at 8, so they agreed that I can drop (my daughter) off early. Usually, the school doesn’t let kids in until 7:40 but I drop her off about 7:10.”

She pays $60 a month for her daughter, who is in sixth grade, to attend after-school care until Smith gets off work at 5 p.m.

“Even though I can’t afford it, I’m just going to have to make myself afford it because I just don’t have no other choice,” Smith said.

Her son is a junior in high school and plays basketball at school or hangs out with friends until she picks him up.

A spokesman for the Mehlville district said lack of transportation was a big reason for the drop in enrollmen of students from other districts, but some parents failed to meet a deadline to prove they lived in the Riverview Gardens district.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille