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Ferguson-Florissant School District approves plan to close some buildings

Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education President Courtney Graves wipes tears Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, while discussing options for closing schools in the district.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education President Courtney Graves wipes tears Wednesday while discussing options for closing schools in the district.

All three high schools in the Ferguson-Florissant School District will remain open but a number of other buildings will close.

The Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education approved one of three proposed redistricting plans Wednesday night, opting for one that preserves its high schools but shutters other buildings, including the historic Vogt school.

The district will expand early childhood education and transform McCluer-South Berkeley High School into a magnet school focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

The vote caps a two-year planning and study process as the board considered ways to save money and improve academic performance as both attendance and state test scores have decreased. While the district is fully accredited, it scored in the provisional range last year.

The Ferguson-Florissant district educates 11,000 students in nine north St. Louis County municipalities. Enrollment is half of its historic high and has been stagnant since 1991. The district has extra space for more than 4,000 students in its buildings.

Reducing facilities will allow the district to put more money into education, administrators contended. But residents, particularly those in the southern part of the district, expressed concern about losing community assets.

“No one will move into our community, so your decision kills Berkeley,” said Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins, who estimated a 35 percent decrease in the city’s population under the plan.

Residents also opposed spending more money for facility upgrades and were upset more details on cost were not released prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

“I find it difficult to understand how the board can make these decisions without knowing the cost,” resident Doug Jackson said. “It’s like going Christmas shopping without knowing what’s in your bank account.”

The proposal to close two high schools and build a larger, comprehensive high school, while turning McCluer-South Berkeley into the STEAM school was quickly defeated. Efforts to delay the decision between the other two options failed.

Board member Rob Chabot said any consideration of closing schools is scary, but the plans being considered were a compromise from more drastic actions.

“We are at a state of desperation to turn this district around,” Chabot said. "We can do better."

The board was split on assenting to the redistricting. Under the plan, Ferguson-Florissant will expand preschool options by breaking its elementary schools into pre-K through second grade and third through fifth grade. Middle school will be divided into a sixth-grade center, and seventh- through eighth-grade buildings.

The district’s former administrative building, Mark Twain, Airport and Vogt schools will be closed. That will save the district $4.5 million dollars.

Wednesday’s board meeting became emotional, with President Courtney Graves coming to tears as she discussed the loss of McCluer-South Berkeley.

“It’s rough for me, coming from the south end of the district and being so close-knit to that community,” Graves said.

Paying for building renovations, including upgrading McCluer-South Berkeley to become the STEAM school, estimated at $6.8 million, will still likely require a bond to be voted on in April.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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