Financial and Political Problems Plague the Troubled St. Louis Schools

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

The 2006-2007 school year for the St Louis schools brings with it a financial deficit and accreditation problems carried over from the previous board majority. Additionally, superintendent Creg Williams’ proposed budget was voted down on June 13, so currently there is no budget for the upcoming school year.

Financial Deficit

The current financial deficit was caused by the state, when it refused to honor its contract with the St Louis schools under the desegregation agreement of 1999. Abruptly during the 2002-2003 school year, the state cut off the funding and flatly refused to honor the agreement to pay the required funding — and has not paid a cent since. 

The St Louis schools sued the state and won the lawsuit in circuit court. The state appealed the decision and has been dragging out the process ever since, delaying any decision on the appeal. The total amount in arrears that the state owes the St Louis schools is more than $120 million. This is the sole cause of the deficit for the upcoming school year.

Politics within the St Louis Schools

Adding to the financial troubles are the political problems that began in 2003, when board control of the St Louis schools was taken over by members loyal to Mayor Francis Slay. Voter support that was previously enjoyed by the St Louis schools was almost immediately lost.

There was nearly three years of disastrous performance in the St Louis schools. This majority essentially gave control of the St Louis schools to the New York management, consulting firm they hired, which resulted in the following:

  • There were three different superintendents within just one budget year;
  • They closed 16 schools without regard to educational or community considerations, basing their decisions solely upon the recommendations of a Houston subcontractor; and
  • In the first two years, the learning environment deteriorated to the point of the whole system being exposed to losing accreditation — they lost 25 accreditation points.

Before 2003, the students were making steady academic progress over the previous four years. Additionally, the St Louis schools were close to regaining full state accreditation, falling short by only two accreditation points.

The current St Louis schools board majority gained control in April of 2006.
Though overall improvements are expected in the next few years, the St Louis schools legacy from the last board majority is a poor learning environment, larger class sizes, greater reliance on uncertified substitute teachers, serious student discipline problems, and poor staff morale.  What improvements have been made during the short tenure of the new majority have been greatly overshadowed by the problems.

Budget Voted Down

The budget for the 2006-2007 school year proposed by the St Louis schools superintendent was shot down due to its broad spending of nearly $500 million with no coherent, detailed plan of action, oversight or accountability. 

Williams must trim down his proposed budget or locate new funding sources to support it, as well as create a detailed plan with oversight and accountability. The St Louis schools board believes that the public, parents and the board have a right to know how scarce monies are being spent.

Currently, the most urgent need for the St Louis schools is a measurable plan for solving the current problems, while providing the greatest possible opportunities for learning within a dependable and stable educational environment.