St. Louis Public Radio News
10:10 pm
Mon December 14, 2009

Reaction mixed to Wellston/Normandy merger

St. Louis – Passionate outbursts from a packed house at a North County elementary school Monday night were not enough to stop the merger of two area school districts.

Parents, teachers and staff of Normandy and Wellston schools districts crowded into the cafeteria at Normandy's Lucas Crossing Elementary to hear from local and state officials about the need for the merger, which will likely be approved on Thursday.

Wellston first lost accreditation in 1994, regained it on a provisional basis in 1998, and lost it again in 2003. The 550-student district has been under state control since 2005. Wellston also lacks the financial base to improve its crumbling facilities, and its superintendent, Charles Brown, is retiring at the end of this year. Those elements, say state officials, combined to make the dissolution the next logical step.

Brown called his district's pending dissolution bittersweet but necessary.

"we need to bring needed changes to our children, or they will continue to suffer the loss of needed resources that they need to compete," he said.

Normandy is also struggling with low test scores, and is provisionally accredited, though that does not include any penalties. But state officials said they like the direction the district is taking under Superintendent Stanton Lawrence. Normandy also just broke ground on a new elementary school, and voters recently approved a bond issue for additional upgrades.

Normandy and Wellston are often bitter athletic rivals. Lawrence, Brown, and state education commissioner Chris Nicastro were all confident that students will adjust next year. Parents like Michele Bullock, however, accused the school of ignoring potential safety issues. Bullock's two sons are students at Wellston's Eskirdge High School.

"They can't even have a basketball game together without some type of confrontation or conflict," Bullock said. "And with the Normandy-Wellston conflict, somebody always ends up severely injured."

Lawrence pointed out that Normandy football players and Wellston basketball players served together to meeting attendees and officials to their seats. And though there was a police presence, the meeting was mostly peaceful, with most of the outbursts directed at the officials.

Wellston teachers, staff and administrators will lose their jobs in July. The state will do everything it can to support them and help them find new jobs, Nicastro said, but Normandy is under no obligation to hire them.

Teachers who attended the meeting had been instructed not to talk to the press.