Lack of Improvement Means More Problems for the St. Louis Schools

Written by Patricia Hawke for

For sometime now, I have written about the problems within the St. Louis schools. They have been “provisionally accredited” for several years now and are facing being unaccredited in less than three years.  The St. Louis Schools is Missouri’s largest public school system with 37,000 students. For the past several and consecutive years, they have received unacceptable ratings from the state, meaning the St. Louis schools’ students have received a less than adequate education.
Peter Herschend, president of the State Board of Education, stated recently at the Missouri School Boards Association’s annual legislative conference that the primary problem is not ineffective teachers. He noted that a crisis has existed for many years in the St. Louis schools’ leadership or the lack thereof. Along with Kansas City, St. Louis is a key player in the economics of the state. Undereducated high school graduates will soon begin to affect the state’s economy and businesses.
In less than three years, Herschend and his board will be asked to determine the accreditation status for the St. Louis schools, and unaccredited looks to be the outcome. According to state law, if the St. Louis schools is unaccredited for two consecutive years, it could be taken over by the state. According to a 1998 state law, the state board could take over even sooner, without waiting for the two-year unaccredited period to pass.
Herschend told conference participants that the State Board faces three choices regarding the St. Louis schools:
  • Do nothing and allow the status quo to continue, which would be unacceptable;
  • Form an advisory board that would make recommendations to the existing board of the St. Louis schools; the advisory board would have no power to enforce its recommendations; or
  • Form a three-member transition board, which would assume all powers over the St. Louis schools; the current elected board would operate in an advisory capacity only with powers or authority.  
Also present at the conference was Maida Coleman, state Senate Minority Leader and Democrat representing the St. Louis area.  She believes the St. Louis schools are being singled out, since 12 other school districts within the state also are failing. Eleven of these are performing as poorly as the St. Louis schools, according to Coleman.
Herschend answered Coleman’s allegation of unfair treatment for the St. Louis schools, stating that all districts are treated equally on the same standards — no exceptions. 
Many others involved at the state and local levels cite inadequate budgets as the primary problem, with the St. Louis schools barely breaking even and an expected $20 million in the red by July 2007. No school district can last long without control of their finances, especially one as large as the St. Louis schools. 
Whatever happens, it will require some real work, knowledge and skills to correct the problem. In the meantime, it is the students of the St. Louis schools who must suffer the brunt of this issue. An inadequate education can affect them for the rest of their lives.