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St. Louis Public Schools To Consider Consolidation Plan After Delay for Feedback

A child and an adult leave Farragut Elementary School in St. Louis's Greater Ville neighborhood in Jan. 9, 2019.
File photo / Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Farragut Elementary School in St. Louis' Greater Ville neighborhood is one of 11 schools in the city listed for closure last month. St. Louis Public Schools will present a possibly shortened list Tuesday.

St. Louis Public Schools parents will learn Tuesday evening if efforts over the past month to save any of 11 targeted schools in the city from closing were successful.

The St. Louis Board of Education will meet at 6:30 to hear — and is expected to vote on — an updated plan for consolidating buildings and resources across the shrinking district. By closing some of the district’s 68 buildings, the district’s leader contends, it will be able to provide more support services and better academic opportunities to students.

Superintendent Kelvin Adams and the school board relented to outcries in mid-December that the public wasn’t given enough notice and opportunity to comment and delayed the vote for a month.

Adams would not say in an interview if any of the nearly two dozen conversations he’s had with elected officials, churches and community groups since have persuaded him to spare any of the schools.

“I have not changed [the list] at this point in time,” he said last week.

Adams said he will share a new proposal, if any changes are made, at the board meeting.

Under the original proposal, nine buildings will close after this school year: Clay, Dunbar, Farragut, Ford, Hickey and Monroe elementary schools; Fanning middle; Northwest and Sumner high schools. Cleveland High School would close, but it shares a building with Central Visual Performing Arts High School, which will stay open. And Carnahan High School will be converted to a middle school.

The original list impacts 2,200 students and 299 teachers and staff. The list of schools to close could get smaller, but Adams said he would not add new schools to the list.

The district has been closing buildings for three decades but has been unable to keep up with a persistently shrinking student population. SLPS educated more than 115,000 children 50 years ago. This school year, its K-12 population fell below 20,000.

The district still has an outsize footprint for the number of children it educates. Most of its 68 buildings are less than half full, and several schools have fewer than 200 students enrolled.

The district started work last February to solicit community feedback on the future of the district. It was interrupted by the pandemic and the plan’s release delayed.

At the December meeting, school board members expressed frustration that community leaders were only then speaking up after the district started the conversation about possible closures more than a year earlier.

“Many of these schools have been on the (closure) list before. Nobody has come to save them any of the other times,” board President Dorothy Rohde Collins said.

Emily Hubbard has four children in the district, though none at possibly affected schools. Hubbard is an active parent in the district who started a petitionlast month to have city officials give more resources to neighborhood schools. It suggested the way to do that would be to close the two gifted magnet schools in south St. Louis, which, unlike most of SLPS schools, are majority white.

“I find it extremely frustrating,” she said about the 11th-hour outcry from officials. “It was almost hurtful to have them all come out when I was like, ‘We’ve been here the whole time.’”

Adams said he wanted to hear concrete proposals that would provide more resources or funding to a school in order to keep it open, such as a community organization providing counselors instead of the district.

The Dutchtown South Community Corporation has facilitated conversations around the future of Monroe Elementary and Carnahan High School.

“What we were hearing from community members was a real surprise that Monroe was on the list,” said Karisa Gilman-Hernandez from Dutchtown South.

Gilman-Hernandez said that the pandemic disrupted community conversations about the consolidation and that schools should be given a reprieve until education gets back to normal.

“Next school year I think is a key school year in ensuring kids that things can get better,” she said.

Dutchtown South has committed to assisting in recruiting students to Monroe, which currently has about 240 children in a building that can fit 385.

Since Monroe’s possible closure was announced, a charter middle school two blocks away, Kairos Academies, has announced it will expand to offer elementary grades and eventually be a K-12 school.

Adams has said that reducing overhead facilities costs in the district could allow it to hire more nurses, reading specialists, social workers, and offer more advanced courses, extracurriculars and paid internships. He is also proposing creating a permanent K-12 virtual school.

“This is not a zero-sum game, but it is a matter of if I’m not able to (close) all of these schools, then I don’t have all the dollars to impact all of these other schools that we’re going to keep open,” Adams said. “So I think it’s a failure in some sense if I’m not able to do all of this.”

Correction: This story has been corrected to say that Emily Hubbard has four children in SLPS, not three.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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