For the first time in a decade, the St. Louis Public Schools will be debt-free.
Superintendent Kelvin Adams announced today that the district has entered an agreement with the plaintiffs in a 1972 case over the district's segregation policies that frees up $96 million for debt reduction and district operations.
The federal government, the state of Missouri, and 16 school districts reached a settlement in 1999 that included the creation of a $180 million fund the SLPS could use to upgrade its facilities. The $96 million to be redistributed under today's agreement is what remains of that fund.
The district's been under state control since 2007 because of concerns about governance, accreditation, and academic performance. Dr. Kelvin Adams, the superintendent, says today's agreement allows the schools to take a big step forward.
"We can check off finances, put it on the side, as long as we keep a balanced budget," superintendent Kelvin Adams said. "Our energies can now be placed in those other areas in a much more succinct way. We're not necessarily worried about counting the dollars."
Here's a breakdown from the St. Louis Public Schools of where the money will go. Most of the money will be distributed over three years:
- $55 million to pay off debts, including $47.1 million the district borrowed from the desegregation fund starting in 2003;
- $23 million for early childhood education;
- $3.5 million to provide leadership training to principals;
- $7.5 million to help fund transportation to magnet schools, which were a crucial part of the 1999 settlement;
- $3.3 million for a teacher training initiative known as the St. Louis Plan;
- $2.7 million for upgraded technology.
Adams says after three years, the district will have to fund the initiatives from its general operating budget.
The money was originally set aside for the district to purchase land and build new schools, though the courts have allowed for other uses throughout the last 12 years. Those changes were not always supported by attorneys for the original plaintiffs, including William Douthit, who represented Minnie Lidell and her two children.
"In prior instances when moneys were removed from the fund with no notice to the plaintiff class, certainly it's my obligation to defend my client's rights to decide how that money is allocated," Douthit said. "In this instance, we were included at the table from the very beginning."
Michael Lidell, Minnie's son, says the plaintiffs always wanted to improve education for SLPS students.
"This is a step in the right direction in order to give us a better opportunity to help the district out to get accreditation back, as well as start out with a fresher foundation," he said.