Normandy board
5:05 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

New Normandy School Board Is Completed; Pattonville Rejects Normandy Transfers

Credit (via Google Maps screen capture)

Updated at 10:17 a.m. Tuesday with Pattonville decision, DESE comment on vacation days.

The Missouri state board of education filled out the new board for the Normandy Schools Collaborative Monday by adding Sheila Williams, a member of the elected school board, and Andrea Terhune, a former IT executive with Enterprise.

They join three others named to the board earlier this month at its meeting in Jefferson City – Charles Pearson, Reginald Dickson and Richard Ryffel. The new board is scheduled to have its first meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Normandy district headquarters (3855 Lucas and Hunt Rd.)

Richard Ryffel, Andrea Terhune, Charles Pearson, Superintendent Ty McNichols, Reginald Dickson and Sheila Williams take their oath.
Richard Ryffel, Andrea Terhune, Charles Pearson, Superintendent Ty McNichols, Reginald Dickson and Sheila Williams take their oath.
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

Education officials also said that the Normandy school district, which lapses as of midnight Monday, will end its existence without having to draw on emergency funding appropriated by state lawmakers this year.

Williams, who has been serving as vice president of the elected board, became a member in 2009 when she was appointed to a one-year term. She retired from the Normandy schools in 2008 after serving as its executive director of school programs.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said that Terhune had been a vice president at Enterprise before leaving to run her own business. Her profile on LinkedIn says she has been president of the board of Girls Inc. of St. Louis since April 2010.

Mike Jones talks with education commissioner Chris Nicastro.
Mike Jones talks with education commissioner Chris Nicastro.
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

The state board, meeting on Monday via conference call, also accepted a recommendation from education commissioner Chris Nicastro that the new Normandy board select its own chairman in the upcoming months.

Some members of the state board, while praising the qualifications of the five board members for the new collaborative, wondered whether they will be able to represent the new Normandy well to the public.

"We've got a quality board," said Mike Jones of St. Louis, vice president of the state board. "They're all solid. But right now, I don't see a go-to person."

But Nicastro said:

"I'm sure among the group there is a good leader for this board." She said the board needs to get to work right away, and if in the future the state board feels a need to add another member or two, that could be done.

Jones plans to swear the new board members in at their meeting Tuesday.

Reginald Dickson
Reginald Dickson
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

The Normandy Schools Collaborative was created by the state board after a tumultuous school year in which Normandy was driven to the brink of bankruptcy by the costs of tuition and transportation for students who transferred to nearby accredited districts.

To ease that financial pressure, the state has said it would not pay tuition for transfer students at the rate charged by receiving districts but would instead pay only about $7,200 per student. The state board also put new restrictions on which Normandy students would be allowed to continue transferring and barred any new students from joining the transfer program.

But because the new Normandy is technically not unaccredited but has no accreditation status at all, receiving districts do not have to accept transfers, and as of Monday, at least three districts – Francis Howell, University City and Ferguson-Florissant – had said they would not do so.

Update: Tuesday, Pattonville joined that group, telling Normandy parents in a letter that it would no longer accept Normandy transfers. End of update.

At its meeting Monday, board members heard progress reports on the transfers and on hiring of new staff for Normandy.

DESE said transfers are confirmed for about 140 students, with more decisions coming on another 280.

Charles Pearson, seated, talks with Superintendent Ty McNichols.
Charles Pearson, seated, talks with Superintendent Ty McNichols.
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

Normandy Superintendent Ty McNichols, who will be continuing in his job without a contract, assured parents that any student who is not able to transfer to an accredited district will be welcomed back to Normandy.

“Over the next few weeks we will be working diligently to prepare for the upcoming school year,” McNichols said. “The focus will be on strong academics that promotes a culture of successful learning and high achievement for all students. Additionally, there will be a strong emphasis on support systems to ensure our students are thriving now and in the future.”

Ron Lankford, deputy commissioner of finance for DESE, said there is plenty of room for Normandy to take any transfer students who return.

"Space is not the problem," he said. "It will be managing numbers of students to preclude classroom overload."

Several members of the board expressed disappointment at the districts who had said they would not take any Normandy transfers in the coming year.

Peter Herschend of Branson, president of the board, said that "their action speaks poorly to their concern for those children, who came to their district to get a better education."

But Jones added that the rejection might be able to steel the students for disappointments later in life.

"These children should use what happened to them as a rationale and an example of why they have to become as independent as they possibly can," Jones said. "Depending on the kindness of strangers will leave you in a ditch by the side of the road....

"They ought to take this to refocus and understand what they have to do by themselves to be OK."

The department also said that as of Monday, 102 out of 196 teachers who will be needed had been hired.

As far as the need for state money goes, the funds had been approved when it appeared that the district would not be able to make it to the end of the school year because of the drain on its budget caused by the transfers. The supplemental funds were approved on the condition that authority for handling Normandy’s money would shift from the elected board to the state board; that vote came in February.

The amount of money that officials said Normandy would need to complete the school year steadily declined, from $6.8 million to $5 million to $2 million. The money would be used only to make sure the district did not go broke before the school year ended.

Since February, all spending, contracts and other financial obligations have been approved by state education officials.

But on Monday, DESE said that Normandy will not need to draw down the additional $2 million because a review of the district’s finances, as it transitions to the Normandy Schools Collaborative, shows that it would have “a small but positive balance” as June ended.

“Normandy’s financial situation was fragile this year with the added expense of the transfer tuition and transportation,” Ron Lankford, deputy commissioner of finance for DESE, said in a statement. “Major cuts as the result of closing an elementary school and reducing staff at mid-year, along with careful financial management, allowed the children to finish school and kept Normandy solvent.”

The ending balance takes into account the refusal of the elected Normandy board to pay nearly $1.2 million in tuition bills to districts receiving transfer students in May and June. The board voted unanimously against paying the bills at its final meeting last week. Board members also voted to accept the district’s final budget, but under protest.

Because all contracts with the old Normandy district expire at midnight Monday, state education officials have been working to hire teachers, staff and others to begin the new year with the collaborative.

Teachers have been welcome to re-apply for their jobs, but Graylon Brown of the Missouri-National Education Association says the process has been characterized by “total chaos,” with teachers getting conflicting information and not being informed of where they may stand in the rehiring process.

“We have been trying to follow up on the first round of hiring,” Brown said Monday. “They have indicated they have hired a number of people, but many people have been contacting me saying that they have not received any solid information from the district based on interviews they have had.

“I do understand it is ongoing, but that’s the best we can get. We have a waiting game.”

Brown said one issue that teachers have been particularly upset about is the status of whether they will be compensated for unused vacation. He said the word at first was that such compensation would be coming, so some teachers kept working and did not take vacation, but now people are being told they are not getting any compensation for unused vacation.

A spokeswoman for the DESE responded to his statement with this email:

The Normandy School District policy stated that unused vacation days do not accumulate.Normandy may have made a practice of paying out unused vacation days as a kind of bonus to its staff, but it reported in its audit that unused vacation days do not accumulate. Normandy further stated in its audit that upon separation from the district, the district would only pay for unused vacation days from that year. The Department is following district policy.