A task force formed to make recommendations on the future of the Normandy School District will be conducting its future business in public, state education officials said Thursday.
The 10-member panel was named by Chris Nicastro, Missouri’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, at the direction of the state board of education. The group held its first meeting on Monday without public notice and planned to continue meeting in private, according to its chair, Carole Basile, who is dean of the school of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
But the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued a brief statement Thursday afternoon saying:
“The department’s legal counsel reviewed the charge to the task force and concluded that the Normandy transition task force would come under the open meetings law.”
Efforts to learn the reasons for the change in policy were not immediately successful.
Basile said she preferred the closed sessions because they would make it easier for task force members to express opinions and speculate on possible operations in Normandy schools without having such views aired in public.
She noted that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had conducted several public hearings into the issues affecting Normandy and other struggling school districts, and she emphasized that she would be happy to listen to any ideas any members of the public would like to offer.
Missouri’s open meetings law requires posting of meetings and agendas in advance and open sessions except when certain topics are being discussed, such as personnel, real estate and litigation.
The transition task force was approved by the state board last month as part of a motion that gave DESE control over Normandy’s finances, taking such control away from its elected board.
The district’s future became problematic because of the costs it incurred when about 1,000 students opted to take advantage of a state law and transfer to nearby accredited schools. Under the law, tuition for students who leave unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens is paid by their home district; transportation to certain districts also is the responsibility of students’ home district.
Normandy has said that tuition and transportation payments of about $1.3 million a month have led to the possibility of it running out of money by April 1.
It originally said it needed $6.8 million to finish out the school year; that figure later was revised to $5 million, an amount that has been approved by the Missouri House.
But earlier this week, a Senate committee approved just $1.5 million for Normandy to help it reach the end of the school year. The full Senate has yet to vote on the matter.
Nicastro has assured Normandy students that in any case, since the district’s finances have been taken over by DESE, they will be able to finish the year in their home district. But she also has said that if the full $5 million is not approved by lawmakers, whatever is needed to help the district avoid bankruptcy will have to be found in Normandy’s budget because the state doesn’t have money to make up the difference.
What will happen to the district beyond the end of this school year remains unclear; that is what the transition task force has been asked to consider. If the district lapses, its students could be assigned to other districts, or the district as a whole could be attached to another district as Wellston was attached to Normandy in 2010. Or, Normandy could be broken up, with various parts attached to surrounding districts.
While the transition task force began meeting this week and the Senate debated the supplemental funds for the district, students and other supporters of Normandy have been holding a variety of events to call attention to the district’s plight.
After a trip to the Capitol on Wednesday, there will be prayer vigils and other events leading up to a three-hour rally scheduled for Saturday at Viking Hall in Normandy High School.