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St. Louis Public Schools transition process officially starts but there’s still no hard deadline

Richard Gaines, center, of the Special Administrative Board, speaks during a joint meeting with the St. Louis Elected School Board Tuesday, March 13, 2018.
File | Wiley Price | St. Louis American
Richard Gaines, center, of the Special Administrative Board that governs St. Louis Public Schools, speaks during a joint meeting with the St. Louis Elected School Board Tuesday night.

The first joint meeting between St. Louis’ two school boards could be seen as the starting gun many in the community have wanted to hear for a decade. For others, it’s a reminder of a troubled past for the school system. But a return of St. Louis Public Schools to elected control likely won’t be a sprint, but rather a slow walk to June 2019.

The seven-member Board of Education flanked a three-person Special Administrative Board, or SAB, during a special meeting Tuesday night at SLPS’s headquarters to begin the process of transitioning back to democratic control.

Members are clear that they want to work together, yet they were unable to agree on a timeline for the transition.

The SAB has overseen St. Louis Public Schools since a 2007 state takeover of the district. The State Board of Education moved up SLPS’s academic standing to full accreditation in January 2017. Having reached that benchmark, the SAB formed a special task force last fall to study future governance of the district.

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The task force recommended a return to the elected board with no timeline in a marathon meeting Jan. 18 and the SAB accepted that recommendation the following day.

Susan Jones, left, of the St. Louis Board of Education, speaks during a joint meeting with the Special Administrative Board March 13, 2018. To Jones' right is board member Katie Wessling.
Credit File | Wiley Price | St. Louis American
Susan Jones, left, president of the St. Louis Elected Board of Education, speaks during a joint meeting Tuesday with the Special Administrative Board that oversees St. Louis Public Schools.

Members of the elected board want a faster timeline, saying before the start of the 2018-19 school year in August is a reasonable timeframe.

“We feel like that’s the least disruptive to the schools themselves,” said Katie Wessling, the elected board’s vice president. “It just seemed like the most appropriate time in terms of not making a dramatic shift when there was a lot going on.”

Members of the SAB think next summer, when its authorization expires, is a good enough deadline and anything sooner would be celebrated.

“We cannot be successful if you’re not ready to take over the mantle,” said the SAB’s Richard Gaines to elected board members.

Gaines did leave the window open for something sooner, adding: “If we believe this (elected) board is ready, nothing prevents us from saying it should be sooner.”

Ultimately, the decision to return control to the elected board is in the hands of the state school board, which has not met for three months because it lacks a quorum.

At the meeting the SAB also announced language it will submit to the General Assembly in hopes of simplifying the process of assisting struggling districts. The bill would create an oversight body within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that could assist struggling schools before an entire district is deemed failing.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.