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Planned charter school in St. Louis County renews debate over public school funding

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio
The first charter school in St. Louis County will open in Pagedale this August in the Normandy area.

St. Louis County will be home to its first charter school this August, when the Leadership School opens in Pagedale.

The school is renovating two warehouse buildings at 1785 Pennsylvania Ave. and will open with students from kindergarten through second grade. It plans to have 450 enrolled students in kindergarten through eighth grade by 2028, said Kimberly Townsend, founder and executive director.

It also plans a third building that would include a gym and a library.

“We are providing another option, an opportunity for parents to be a part of a school community where they not only have a voice, but their child has a voice, where their child is being able to exercise their leadership as students to help craft their experiences,” Townsend said.

The Missouri State Board of Education approved the school in December 2020. The school was developed with support from the Opportunity Trust, a St. Louis-based education advocacy group.

Elected officials in north St. Louis County have complained that the school will siphon students away from public schools and deprive them of funding.

“They weed out the kids that's gonna hurt the numbers, and where do those kids have to go, back to the public school.” Beverly Hills Mayor Brian Jackson said. “Meanwhile, you've taken so much money from the public school, so they're stretched and strained to service all their children.”

News of the school’s planned opening follows Normandy Superintendent Marcus Robinson's decision last week to resign at the end of the school year. Robinson, who did not have the proper certifications to lead the district, co-founded the Opportunity Trust, but he broke ties with it before joining the school district, according to the Missouri Charter Public School Commission executive director.

State law allows charter schools — which are publicly funded but not run by locally elected school boards — to open outside of St. Louis and Kansas City if the local school district is not accredited. Normandy lost its full accreditation almost a decade ago but gained provisional accreditation in 2017. The Missouri Charter Public School Commission sponsors the school.

The Missouri State Board voted in December to add two locally elected school board members to the Normandy school board. Jackson said adding a charter school now will hurt the district and said the district was seeing improvements before the coronavirus pandemic.

But Townsend said the charter school provides a free option for parents seeking an alternative to public schools for their children.

“Parents are doing everything possible to ensure that their kids have a quality education,” Townsend said. “We just believe [in] the opportunity to partner and community, to provide an alternative option that is a free public school option for families."

Leadership School officials said the open enrollment deadline for students is March 31.

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.