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Plans expected to transition St. Louis Public Schools back to control by elected board

Ashland Elementary School Principal, Lisa Brown, helps students work through a classroom assignment using iPads.
Tim Lloyd | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Board of Education is extending the governance period for the St. Louis Public School District’s Special Administrative Board for three more years. But it also asked its staff to present a transition plan at the April meeting.

“A review of the district performance shows steady increase in student performance on the MAP (test) since 2006," said Margie Vandeven, Missouri commissioner of education. "Although, there is still a long way to go as a whole for the students of this district."

State board members indicated that the transition process should be slow and steady.

"I think there has to be a plan, a gradual transition," said Maynard Wallace, a state board member. "It needs to not be an immediate turnover, and the beginning of it needs to be triggered by something other than just a date on the calendar."

The board discussed the importance of performance-based criteria to mark the beginning of a transition of governance, instead of setting a solid end-date. Such time-based criteria may be unhelpful in assuring that the district has made the necessary achievements. The SAB is working under its third three year authorization.


Susan Jones, president of the elected board of education in St. Louis, says her team has been working on a transitional plan for several years, and performance criteria isn't the best solution.

"The problem with performance criteria is that if the district continues to underperform, it will be used as justification to say the SAB is not finished yet," said Jones in an interview on Tuesday. "If the district does meet criteria set, it will be used as justification to say the SAB is working and shouldn't be changed."

During the meeting, the state board said it will work with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop a transitional governance plan, which will be further discussed in April. 

The elected board president said she fears the state board could extend the SAB's term past 2019. She says the elected board is prepared to regain governance.

"The elected board could certainly take over from here; that is why we have continued to meet and to monitor the district during our exile," said Susan Jones. "We are ready to hit the ground running."

The State Board often clarified that they were not making any judgments about the ability of the elected board to govern, but rather assessing the ongoing state of public education in St. Louis.

History of problems

Michael Jones, a member of the state board, said the appointed board is helping improve a district that has been struggling for over a decade.

"The elected board could certainly take over from here; that is why we have continued to meet and to monitor the district during our exile." - Susan Jones.

"If we want to talk about where St. Louis is now, for me, I've got to start back to the period 2002-2005 … a lot of political and business leaders took over the St. Louis public schools and drove it into the abyss," said Jones. "What brings us into this moment is that moment. … So, the question becomes, how does St. Louis get out of the hole it was put in?"

Many have criticized the district's status in the early-2000s, but opponents of the SAB term extension say the appointed board has already served its purpose. They say it's time for elected officials to regain control, because they are a better representation of the community.

"The people who are on the elected board are ready to govern St. Louis Public Schools," said Michael Jones. "It’s not our job to judge their fitness. Matter of fact, a law in the constitution stipulates who is fit to serve, and the ultimate criteria in a democracy is that you got elected. … It’s fairly neocolonial to talk about if they are ready to govern. Our job is to stay focused on the best educational outcome for children."

Most members agreed that handing authority back to the elected board in due time is the best course of action.

"The best voice for those students is a well-run, locally elected board who are focused on the well-being of the students," said Peter Herschend, a member of the state board.

The state board also voted to extend the term of Riverview Gardens' special administrative board to 2019.

Mallory Daily is an intern for the State Capitol Bureau of St. Louis Public Radio. Follow on Twitter: @malreports