Even though the St. Louis public school system is now fully accredited, the city school district continues to be run by a state-appointed board.
Conversations with state board of education members indicate that it could remain that way for a while.
By Missouri law, the state board was able to take control of the district in 2007 when it declared the district unaccredited.
But the statute, which only applies to the city of St. Louis, also gives the state a great deal of leeway in deciding when the appointed Special Administrative board has “accomplished its purpose.”
State board member Mike Jones of St. Louis said that means theoretically the SAB could continue running the district forever.
“For me, and I think the constitution and the statute dictate, our responsibility is the best educational decision for the children, not the governance preference of the adults,” Jones said.
“There’s no statutory requirement that at some point the state board of education disband the SAB. So it’s a judgment of the state board of education when dissolving the SAB and returning to an elected board is in the best interests of the children in the St. Louis Public Schools,” Jones added.
In his opinion, Jones said the SAB would have fulfilled its purpose when there is “an elected board that can maintain the integrity and progress of the educational environment that has been established.”
“I don’t think that you’ve got a mathematical formula that tells you these seven people at this point in time can do that,” Jones said. “And even if you make a judgment that it looks like it’s possible to make that transfer, the question is how should you make that transfer happen in a way that doesn’t undermine the progress that you’ve made to this point?”
Fellow state board member Vic Lenz of St. Louis County also said leadership stability was part of the criteria for returning power to the elected board.
Earlier this month, the state board gave a lot of credit to the SAB for creating the stability St. Louis Public Schools needed to regain accreditation.
“Prior to the time that they hired (Superintendent) Kelvin (Adams) and the SAB was running the district, I think they had like six superintendents in a five year period. And that doesn’t call for much stability within the district and the city,” Lenz said.
The state board renewed the SAB for three years last February, authorizing the appointed board to continue until 2019.
Then in the fall, the state board put those talks on hold after elected board member Bill Monroe tried to participate.
“After that breakdown because of that action by the one member of the elected board member, it was pretty much determined by the state board that we would wait until after the election in the city, the April election, and see who the members of the board are, and at that point possibly try to re-institute that meeting,” said Lenz.
Bill Monroe’s term on the elected school board ends in April. He is running for re-election.
Lenz agrees with Jones that legally speaking the SAB can stay in power indefinitely.
“I don’t know if it’s likely to happen,” Lenz said. “What would I like to see is that committee to begin functioning again, and begin talking about a process so that we could determine something between the SAB, the elected board and the state board.”
Lenz and Jones both said the goal is still to return power back to the elected board. But they emphasized the need to make sure that transition occurs smoothly, and said the state board only has the authority to decide when the elected board can return to power.
“We do have the authority to make the decision,” Jones said. “We don’t have the authority to dictate the process of how that decision should be implemented. And for me, I don’t think you can disconnect the process from the decision.”
Lenz said April’s school board election will be important because the members voters choose could be on the board when it returns to power.
“Whoever is elected this April will be there for the next four years and will most likely be involved in running the city schools someday in the future, in the near future,” Lenz said.
Jones said it’s not who is on the elected board that matters, but how they act.
“It’s depends on the elected board having the structure, culture, discipline — whatever term you want to use — to engage in this process, not matter who the members are,” Jones said. “We’re not in charge of who gets elected, nor should we have anything to say about who the people of St. Louis decide should represent them.”
Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.