Many state officials have been receptive to a fresh proposal to overhaul the state’s school accreditation system, but the plan would take years to implement and won’t help the districts facing bankruptcy over student transfer and tuition costs.
The four-tier system proposed this week by the Missouri Association of School Administrators would dissolve failing districts into accredited neighboring districts if they did not meet benchmarks a over three-year period. It would also allow students in struggling districts to transfer to better-performing schools in their home districts.
Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro concedes that the current system is “broken” but that changing the accreditation process won’t be possible for years.
Nicastro joined a panel discussion Thursday at St. Louis University Law School, focusing on the problems facing the unaccredited Normandy, Riverview Gardens and Kansas City School Districts.
“What we’re talking about here today really is the transfer issue, which is a separate issue,” she said. “The point for us is how do we address the needs of children in districts that are unaccredited.”
Under Missouri law, unaccredited school districts are required to pay transportation and education costs for students wishing to attend school in accredited districts.
Despite facing bankruptcy next spring over the transfer costs, Normandy School District Superintendent Ty McNichols said he’s optimistic class will be in session next fall.
According to district officials, tuition and transportation costs for putting roughly 1,000 students into 14 higher-performing districts could consume as much as 30 percent of Normandy’s resources.
Last week, the district’s school board voted not to pay the $1.3 million it owed in tuition payments to the accredited districts. McNichols said many people from Normandy want to know if the cost reflects the true financial burden incurred by other districts.
“People reacted to us for not paying our bills and we got calls from people saying ‘you know, by not paying your bills, you’re hindering the other districts from being able to do their work,’” he said. “The question that people keep asking me is, ‘how are they using that money?’ So, since I don’t have that answer, that’s a question we’d have to ask other districts.”
Commissioner Nicastro has called on the state legislature to review how tuition reimbursement is calculated. Nicastro has assured districts educating transfer students that the state would pay the tuition costs, if the unaccredited districts fall two months behind on payments.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has scheduled hearings to discuss the accreditation status and options for the Normandy School District beginning Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Normandy High School. Hearings for the Riverview Garden School District are for scheduled for later this month.