St. Louis Public Schools are accredited again. Convened in 2007, the Special Administrative Board has slowly completed hard-fought progress in student achievement and fiscal management to achieve this result. The SAB is authorized by the Missouri State school board to remain in control until 2019.
In spite of this, the city of St. Louis continued to hold elections for school board members, and the seven-person elected board has persistently met and passed resolutions in a show of dedication to the district and community. Now is the time to begin the difficult process of planning a transition back to local control.
Among myriad issues central to this transition, three stand out: The elected board was not included in the planning and execution of the actions that brought the district back into accreditation; the elected board lacks a functional working relationship with Superintendent Kelvin Adams; and lastly, the institutional knowledge that the SAB members take with them once they leave will be crucial to pass on. A long and well-planned changeover is critical to ensure a smooth transition.
Those who call for a quick return of the elected board and removal of the special administrative board don’t take any of this into consideration.
The devil is in the details of the Missouri Revised Statutes. Section 162.1100.1 to be exact. It says: “The transitional school district in any city not within a county shall be dissolved on July 1, 2008, unless the state board determines, prior to that date, that it is necessary for the transitional district to continue to accomplish the purposes for which it was created.”
The passage’s thick legalese refers only to St. Louis Public Schools. Under the law, the SAB could indeed go on indefinitely managing the SLPS. There had been talk of initiating a transition, and meetings were held in the summer of 2016. But only some elected school board members — at least one short of a quorum — were invited. That irked at least one elected board member, who showed up uninvited. The meeting adjourned. The transition plans are now on hold until after April’s school board elections.
As a former elected school board director and vice president, my opinion is that local control is very important for public school districts. It fosters accountability. An obvious pitfall of this elected board is that people with very little knowledge of how to manage an operating budget of over $323 million would be elected to the detriment of the district’s recently attained accreditation.
In a high-functioning district, it can take a considerable amount of time for a new board member to fully understand the finer points, which is why the timing and execution of this transition is so critical.
School board members in Missouri have three mandated duties as elected officials: Pass a budget, create and pass school policy, and supervise the district superintendent. The Missouri School Board Association provides a mandatory comprehensive training session to ensure that all elected board members are ready for the rigor of managing an accredited district.
But what if the district is a previously troubled one? The association provides customized continuous-improvement support and consultation, and continued board training is a critical element to maintaining the SAB’s hard-fought gains.
The SLPS elected board created a transition and strategic plan outlining their vision for “Returning the St. Louis Public Schools to the Citizens of St. Louis.” In it, the elected board recommends seeking grants for additional funding, partnering with the St. Louis Public Library, changing the way assessments are given and, yes, additional training through Missouri School Board Association to ensure that they are prepared to run the district.
Their recommendations on St. Louis Public Charter Schools are outside of the purview of their elected capacity, but there are excellent, well thought-out proposals in the plan.
A return to local control, starting through a defined transition with targeted goals and benchmarks, will serve the students and stakeholders of SLPS best. The transition may take years, which is understandable given the complexity of the issues facing the district. A defined transition plan that honors the work of the Special Administrative Board and Superintendent Adams with a target sunset date is the best course of action, provided certain measures are taken to ensure the elected board can handle the task of running the district.
Read more about what happened to this column HERE.