Members of the Special Administrative Board (SAB) for St. Louis Public Schools — which has overseen the district since it lost state accreditation in 2007 — are meeting to develop a plan for returning authority over the district to the disempowered, elected board.
The first meeting is being held this evening and will be a closed session to discuss legal and legislative issues related to transitioning authority.
Last month, members of the SAB sent a letter to David Jackson, president of the elected board, indicating that both boards share the goal of developing a smooth and constructive process for transitioning power. In the letter, posted at the bottom of the page, members of the SAB say they would like to further discuss a limited role for two members of the elected board during open SAB meetings. SAB members also wrote that they are willing to help immediately with finding training opportunities for elected board members supplied by the Missouri School Board Association.
SAB members write in the letter, dated Dec. 10, that they hope to establish a relationship of mutual respect between both boards. At public forums and meetings, members of the elected board have seldom hesitated to criticize the SAB. But Jackson of the elected board was optimistic that talks would be productive.
“Truthfully speaking, I believe the SAB has served their purpose,” Jackson said. “The district is stable, the district is financially sound and the academic achievements have increased for certain grade levels.”
Talk of transitioning power back to the elected board comes at a critical time for St. Louis Public Schools. The district showed enough academic progress to earn an upgrade to provisional accreditation in 2012, but then it scored below the accredited range during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years under the latest state standards, or Missouri School Improvement Plan (MSIP5). State officials have said they want to see three years of data before reconsidering a district’s accreditation status.
Meanwhile, administrators are implementing Superintendent Kelvin Adams’ blueprint for improving classroom success by funneling extra money and resources toward the district’s lowest performing schools. Part of the plan would allow for the district to consider bringing in a nonprofit, outside operator to take over a school if it failed to make academic strides. That part of the plan drew harsh criticism from members of the elected board.
The district has also recently entered into a partnership with charter school KIPP Victory Academy. In return for access to a vacant school building on the city’s north side, the district is able to count attendance and test data toward its annual performance review with the state.
Jackson said it’s a collaboration that members of the elected board would support if and when they were to regain control over the district.
“It can be a success and it can help those parents looking for a choice,” Jackson said.
In April, the State Board of Education extended the SAB’s authority through June 2016. After that, the board would have to extend the SAB’s tenure for a third time or it would expire. Outgoing Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said at the time that the extension left the door open to returning oversight to the elected board. Margie Vandeven, formerly a deputy commissioner for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, was announced as Nicastro’s successor.
Unlike the SAB that runs the unaccredited Riverview Gardens School District in north St. Louis County, the Board of Education has no say in whether the three current members will remain in place. That authority is split three ways between the governor, the mayor and the president of the Board of Aldermen.