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Scores protest proposed St. Louis school closings

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 5, 2009 - Hundreds of parents, teachers, students, and community residents made repeated appeals to the Special Administrative Board on Wednesday night to reject a consultant’s recommendations that 29 schools be shuttered, a move that would help the system address a budget deficit.

The board had set aside two hours for public comment, but the time was extended because about 40 people still were waiting to be heard when the session, at Roosevelt High School, was supposed to end at 8 p.m. A second session is scheduled for Saturday morning at Vashon.

Judging from the public comments at Wednesday night’s hearing, the proposals affecting Gateway Tech and McKinley Classical Junior Academy were among the least popular changes recommended by the consulting firm, MGT of America Inc.

Speakers insisted that both schools should remain open at their current locations. MGT had recommended that Gateway’s program be moved to much smaller McKinley and that the McKinley program be shifted to Humboldt. Gateway Vice Principal Chip Clatto says the board needs to be thinking of ways to finance a state of the art "green" Gateway Tech rather than discussing the MGT proposal.

“It’s time for innovation and creativity,” he told the hearing. “It’s time to leave Gateway where it is, build a new school and provide an education the likes no one in the city has ever seen.”

McKinley also had its share of supporters. They included retired residents like Nick Miranda. He called MGT’s plan a game of musical chairs in which there is no winner. Speaking for McKinley’s alumni association, Miranda told the board, “I should like to humbly request that you keep McKinley alive.”

Barbara MacRobie, in charge of public relations for Dance St. Louis, was among those urging the board not to tamper with the highly regarded school.

“I object to the impact it would have on music and dance,” she said, adding that Humboldt lacked the space and facilities to accommodate the McKinley program. “You can’t have a dance program without a dance studio,” she said, noting McKinley’s status as a Blue Ribbon school.

Also criticized was MGT’s proposal that Gallaudet be shut down and the students moved elsewhere. Kim Rickert said she and other parents of special needs children opposed that plan.

“We state with complete confidence that each and every one of us believe Gallaudet School to be the best educational environment our children can be in,” said Rickert, whose son, Bryan, attends the school.

Special Administrative Board member Richard Gaines, who chaired the meeting, told the hearing that the board has made no decisions about the MGT options. He said comments from the two public hearings will be part of the information school administrators will use to make a recommendation to the administrative board.

“Then, and only then, will we begin making a final decision,” Gaines said. The other two administrative board members, chairman Rick Sullivan and Melanie Adams, also attended the session. Gaines gave no indication how soon the administrative board would make its decision.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.

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