Commentary: School board locks up city schools, shuts out competition
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 6, 2009 - "You tell me you love me but then you are choking me." This is how one St. Louis resident described what the Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public School District is doing by placing a 100-year deed restriction on the school buildings it has closed.
Simply stated, the SAB has voted unanimously to not allow anyone who purchases the buildings to reopen the buildings as a school. This outrageous policy has been adopted by the SAB since it first decided to close schools in 2007. With the potential for more closings soon, people need to clearly say this is a policy that cannot continue. Such a restriction puts a chokehold on a community desperate for quality educational options for their children.
These school buildings were built with taxpayer money for the express purpose of educating the children in the community. Keeping these buildings off limits to someone who wants to purchase the building to open a public charter or independent private school denies that purpose.
Furthermore, it makes no sense in the current economic climate to refuse to deal with the most obvious prospective buyer of these buildings. School districts consistently say they need more money to operate, but this policy has a direct, adverse impact on funds available for educating the children of St. Louis.
Many parents in the city lack the means to transport their children longer distances. Those who now walk to a school down the street in the neighborhood will now have to walk farther.
And as state Rep. Talibdin El-Amin said in a recent online video our organization produced on this topic, "There is gang activity and it is very territorial. That is something that people don't consider."
Students will be afraid to cross into new neighborhoods, as they will be crossing into a different gang territory. Sadly, all of these factors may lead to an increase in St. Louis' already high dropout rate.
In addition to the increased burden on the children, parents will suffer as well. Neighborhood schools are often a source of pride and stabilization in the community. These buildings will sit vacant and in disrepair, further dragging down home values in already distressed communities in a very bad housing market.
So why has the Special Administrative Board implemented a policy that is so obviously wrong for the city of St. Louis? The answer is in one word that defines the American spirit: competition.
The SAB does not want to see more public charter schools or independent schools open in the city and succeed where the traditional public schools have failed. This selfish interest is the most outrageous component of this policy. The SAB should want all children in the city to receive a good education, regardless of whether it is provided by the St. Louis Public Schools or by a charter or private school.
The fact that the three members of the SAB have this much power to set our community so far behind is unacceptable. The board can easily reverse its decision but they must hear from the residents of the community. The Children's Education Alliance of Missouri is calling on the SAB to immediately lift the deed restrictions on current and future closed public school buildings. Residents of the city and the rest of the area should show the SAB that they are not willing to support this harmful policy.
Earl Simms is state coordinator of the Children's Education Alliance of Missouri .