The task force considering the future of the Normandy School District began getting more specific about options Tuesday, including what kind of board should govern the district and whether it should be elected or appointed.
After meeting for more than an hour in closed session with Mark Van Zandt, the general counsel for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the panel began talking about various scenarios:
- What happens if the district lapses altogether and is dissolved?
- What happens if the district is restructured under new leadership?
- What happens if the district is broken up and attached to one or more surrounding districts?
- What happens if Normandy students are assigned to surrounding districts?
The questions have educational, political and financial ramifications that have occupied members of the task force for several meetings. It is expected to make recommendations to the state board of education by mid-May, before the board’s scheduled May 19-20 meeting.
Much of Tuesday’s discussion at the University of Missouri-St. Louis centered on how the district would be governed – by its current elected board, by an appointed board such as the ones that exist in St. Louis and in Riverview Gardens or by a hybrid board made up of elected and appointed members.
Other factors to be considered are Normandy’s accreditation status and whether students would still be allowed to transfer from there to nearby accredited districts. Even if no new students were allowed to transfer, the question remained whether students who transferred this year would be allowed to continue in their new districts.
Gary Cunningham, a former head of the state school board, said the task force’s recommendations need to address what to do about existing transfer students. He also said he hoped that whatever board is in charge of the district has the power and the willingness to act in the best interest of the students.
“I think you need strong local leadership in the superintendent,” he said, “but you also need a board that will do what needs to be done and has the will to do it.”
He said he would prefer a board of three members and no more than five.
Task force member Maxine Clark said she would like to see children stay in their neighborhood schools as much as possible, but she agreed that, at this time, the Normandy schools aren’t doing the job they should be doing.
“I would not move one child,” she said. “They would still go to their school. It just wouldn’t be operated by Normandy School District anymore.”
Talking about the many years that Normandy has been struggling, Clark added:
“How long will it take? How long will those children in the Normandy School District have to wait to get a quality education?
“We have to look at what makes most sense for children and their families.”
While DESE has new authority to deal with struggling schools under a law that took effect last year and has adopted a new detailed plan for such action, its power could still be changed by legislation moving through the General Assembly, which adjourns next month.
The Missouri Senate has passed a sweeping school reform bill; the House is expected to begin debate on its own version this week.
The task force voted unanimously to close its session despite an objection from St. Louis Public Radio, which said:
“We object to this meeting being closed. Our legal counsel has advised us that because the task force does not have any authority to take action in areas covered by the Open Meetings Law – real estate, personnel or legal action -- it should not be able to meet in executive session. We believe that the importance of the future of the Normandy School District means that the task force’s discussions should take place in open session.”
The motion to close the session cited the need to discuss work product from Van Zandt and identifiable personnel records.
After the meeting was opened to the public, Carole Basile, the dean of the UMSL school of education and chair of the task force, said the panel needed to get clarity from DESE on state law that governs when a school district can lapse because of its inability to provide education.
“We had to find out how they were interpreting the statute,” Basile said.