As a task force continues its work on how the Normandy School District will operate next school year, lawmakers are moving ahead on appropriating money to help the district finish the current year without going broke.
The Missouri Senate voted Monday to advance a supplemental appropriations bill that includes $1.5 million for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to spend on Normandy schools. The department was given control of the district’s finances last month by the state board of education; the shift in financial responsibility appeared to be necessary before lawmakers would approve any extra money.
The $1.5 million is less than the $5 million that was in the House bill for emergency funds for Normandy. But Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, has told St. Louis Public Radio that it now appears the district will require less money than it had originally projected, so it might not need the full $5 million.
A conference committee is expected to come up with a final figure.
Normandy’s budget was hit hard by the need to pay tuition and in some cases transportation costs for about 1,000 students who transferred to nearby accredited schools this year, as allowed by a state law upheld last summer by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Early in the school year, the district began warning that the costs of the transfers would likely mean Normandy could go bankrupt around April 1. Its school board voted last year to eliminate more than 100 jobs and close an elementary school in an effort to cut the budget as much as possible.
Since DESE took over the district’s finances last month, it has been working to determine just how much is needed for Normandy to finish the year. A message sent by education commissioner Chris Nicastro earlier this month to members of the House and Senate from the St. Louis area said the exact figure “has been a moving target since the beginning of the school year.”
The latest estimate of the shortfall, Nicastro said, appears to be closer to $2 million.
“I want to stress that these changes are not uncommon,” Nicastro wrote, “nor in any way a negative reflection on the account of the district or the department. The fact is that these numbers change – sometimes significantly – through the school year.”
When DESE took over Normandy’s finances, Nicastro assured students and their families that students would be able to complete the school year in their district. She has said that if supplemental money approved by lawmakers isn’t enough to get the district to the end of the year, other cuts would have to be made to make up the difference.
In an interview Wednesday, Ron Lankford, deputy commissioner for financial and administrative services, said that if the $1.5 million figure approved by the Senate is what survives in final legislation, Normandy should still be able to finish the year.
But, he added, “it will be tight. There’s no question about that.”
Lankford explained that the supplemental appropriation could be added to about $500,000 the district would be able to shift from a capital projects fund plus a 3 percent fund balance that districts normally carry over from one school year to the next.
Together, he said, the total should be enough for Normandy to pay its bills.
“Normandy pretty well agrees that if they had basically the $2 million,” Lankford said, “they could cover their costs for the remainder of the school year. The question is whether they would have carryover money relative to next year.”
He said there is no legal requirement for a district to have that fund balance, but districts that don’t have it must notify the state. The state, in turn, notifies neighboring districts that the district without the carryover money could possibly fail, affecting operations elsewhere.
Similarly, Lankford said, state law allows districts in Normandy’s situation to use money from a capital projects fund for operations instead.
In any case, he said, whatever money is needed will have to come from within Normandy’s budget.
“We certainly don’t have $2 million to give them,” Lankford said.
Transition task force meetings
While the financial discussions are going on in Jefferson City, the transition task force appointed by Nicastro to plan for Normandy’s future beyond this school year will be holding several meetings in the coming weeks.
Thursday night, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the group is scheduled to meet at the University of Missouri-St. Louis to hear from Chris Krehmeyer, the executive director of Beyond Housing. His group and its 24:1 initiative have worked closely with Normandy schools.
Krehmeyer is expected to discuss with the task force how any move to reconstitute Normandy schools could affect the community, as well as any other partnerships that could help the schools and the community connect better.
The meeting will be held in Century Room B of the UMSL Millennium Student Center.
Other upcoming meetings will address a variety of topics:
- March 31, 5-8 p.m. – Lankford and Mark VanZandt, general counsel for DESE, will discuss the financial and legal ramifications of lapsing as a district. William Humphrey, president of the Normandy school board, and vice president Sheila Williams will discuss governance, and Superintendent Ty McNichols will review possible issues that would arise if the district lapses.
- April 8, 1-4 p.m. – Don Senti of EducationPlus and Kate Casas of the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri will talk about how possible changes at Normandy would affect other area school districts and how the task force’s decisions could affect future education policy in Missouri.
- April 15, 1-4 p.m. – This meeting will focus on what conditions need to be met regarding teaching and leadership, including recent research on recruitment and professional development.
- April 22, 1-4 p.m. – This meeting will discuss the possible scenarios for reconstituting Normandy schools and the pros and cons of each.
Other meetings are scheduled for April 29, 5-8 p.m., and May 6 and May 12, each from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The 10-member task force is led by Carole Basile, dean of the school of education at UMSL. The group originally planned to hold its meetings in private, with Basile explaining that members wanted to be able to have freer discussions about all possible alternatives without having them reported as definite plans.
But DESE later said the group should convene in accordance with the provisions of Missouri’s Open Meetings Law, which allows such closed meetings only in the cases of discussions of personnel, real estate and legal matters.