(Updated 1:29 p.m., Fri., July 18)
Even though the University City School Board has voted to change course and accept students who are qualified to transfer from Normandy, uncertainty surrounding the transfers remains.
The board voted 5-2 Thursday night to accept the transfers, but the board also let stand an earlier decision not to accept the lower tuition rate that state education officials say is all they will pay to districts that receive the transfer students. The board had voted last month not to accept the lower tuition amount, and it did not take up that issue again this time.
That lower rate, about $7,200, is dramatically lower than the proposed tuition rates for the coming school year in U. City -- $12,413 for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, $13,283 for students in grades six through eight and $14,381 for high school students.
What does the split decision mean for the families of about 80 Normandy students hope to attend schools in U. City in the coming school year?
Should the students enroll and see what happens when U. City sends the bill for the higher tuition to the state, which now runs the newly named Normandy Schools Collaborative? Will the state not even let them enroll in U. City schools because of the board’s stance on tuition? Is there a compromise possible before classes start next month?
Sarah Potter, spokeswoman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said in an email Friday that “we’re still mulling this over.”
U. City Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt had asked her school board to approve the lower tuition amount, which was set by the state to help stabilize Normandy’s financial picture. Payments of tuition and transportation for Normandy students brought the district to the brink of bankruptcy and led to the state takeover.
Scott Hafertepe, the chief financial officer for U. City schools, said that it was fair to ask whether the lower tuition payment would hurt the receiving district’s finances.
But, he added, “I think if you’re truly only looking at this through a business lens, you want the other side of the transaction to be financially viable.”
Read St. Louis Public Radio's earlier story below:
Laquette Collins has three children who transferred from Normandy to University City last year.
On Thursday night her voice quivered as she urged the University City School Board to reconsider their decision to no longer accept students from Normandy.
“Since they’ve been in U. City, my kids have made tremendous improvements,” Collins told the board, as she rubbed away tears.
Shortly after her comments, the board reversed its decision to refuse students from Normandy who were set to return to University City for the coming school year.
Collins felt a wave of relief.
“I wanted to jump up and scream,” she said with a laugh. “If I didn’t think I was going to get put out of the meeting for doing it.”
Though state officials have recommended that districts accept a lower tuition rate for transfer students this year, the University City board kept higher rates in place.
Last month the board voted to close its doors to transfers students from the new, state-run Normandy Schools Collaborative, which replaced the unaccredited Normandy School District. The new district began operations on July 1 with no accreditation status, and according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), receiving districts have the option as to whether they will continue to accept students who transferred last year. A student also must have attended the Normandy School District during the 2012-13 school year to continue in the transfer program, according to DESE guidelines.
With board member Tom Peters absent from the June 26 meeting, the vote was split on a motion to accept transfer students. In the event of a tie, district policy states that a motion fails. That ended the transfer process for Normandy students.
By a 5-2 vote on Thursday evening, the board reversed course and reopened its doors to 80 students who transferred to University City last year.
Peters voted in favor of accepting transfers. Charlotte Tatum was the only member to change his or her mind.
She said in the weeks afterward she had time to think about her decision, and comments from parents like Collins caused her to reconsider.
“If it were my child, what would I want someone to do?” Tatum said.
Linda Peoples-Jones, George Lenard and Lisa Brenner voted again to accept Normandy transfer students.
In contrast, John Clark and state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, voted again to refuse transfer students from Normandy.
Chappelle-Nadal maintained her position that accepting students could weigh down academic performance. She also brought up concerns about the outcome of a lawsuit filed by parents of students who are challenging state recommendations to limit the number of students who may transfer out of Normandy.
While she agrees with the premise of the lawsuit, she said it could open the doors to far more than 80 Normandy students transferring into University City.
“We’re in a gray area where administrative rules are superseding and circumventing state law,” Chappelle-Nadal said.
During a work session prior to the board’s vote, concerns were raised that test scores from Normandy students could erode the district’s accreditation status.
In response, Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt said it would take more than a weak showing on the part of Normandy transfer students, which made up around 3 percent of the student body, for the district to lose its full accreditation.
“While I’m not a statistician, I don’t think that the 3 percent is what will cause us to lose our accreditation across the board,” Pruitt said. “If we lose our accreditation, it would take more than the 3 percent to do that. We would have to have more kids score in basic and below basic.”
Pruitt pointed out that in addition to test scores, other measures like attendance, graduation rates and ACT scores factor into a district's accreditation score.
“It is the work that we do every day in the classroom, whether they’re Normandy’s kids or anybody else’s kids, that hinges upon us meeting our accreditation,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt also pointed out that the parents of Normandy transfer students who signed up their children to return to the district followed the rules, and that multiple school transitions can hinder students’ classroom performance.
The board did not revisit its decision on tuition for transfer students. In its meeting on June 26, the board voted unanimously not to accept the lower rate of about $7,200 that’s recommended in DESE guidelines for students who transferred last year out of the former Normandy School District.
The district's proposed tuition rate for the coming school year for K-5 students is $12,413; for grades six through eight the proposed rate is $13,283; and for high school the proposed rate is $14,381.
Pruitt had recommended that the board approve the lower tuition rate, but some board members worried that doing so could put the district in financial bind.
During the work session, the district’s chief financial officer, Scott Hafertepe, said the lower tuition was intended to help stabilize Normandy’s finances. Costs related to school transfers forced Normandy to reduce staff and left it hanging by a thread financially by the end of last school year.
“What about the hardship to taxpayers in University City?” Chappelle-Nadal asked Hafertepe of the recommended lower tuition rate.
Hafertepe responded that it was a fair question.
“But I think if you’re truly only looking at this through a business lens, you want the other side of the transaction to be financially viable,” Hafertepe said.