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Education

St. Louis should close 17 schools, superintendent says

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 26, 2009 - St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams got a warm public reception Thursday night to his recommendation that the district close 17 schools to help balance the budget.

The reaction was in sharp contrast to widespread public displeasure over recommendations in a recent report by MGT America Inc., the consulting firm that the Special Administrative Board hired to help it decide which schools to shut down. The SAB later asked Adams and his staff to review MGT's report and come up with their own recommendations.

Rick Sullivan, head of the SAB, noted that the district faces a $36 million budget deficit and that closing some schools would help trim some of its costs. While MGT's recommendations would have taken the district a long way toward closing the deficit, Adams noted that his proposals would result in a savings of $7.7 million.

"The superintendent's plans would save us millions, but we know we'd have to find more savings," Sullivan said, adding that other sources, including federal stimulus funds for education, would have a positive impact on the schools budget.

Sullivan said the SAB will next review Adams' recommendations and those from the consultant and will make a decision that will be announced during the March 12 board meeting.

The crowd was generally polite save for a mild disruption about half an hour into Adams' presentation by about four people, one of whom carried material for the campaign of mayoral Green Party candidate Elston K. McCowan. After school security officials escorted the protesters out, Adams' presentation went on without incident.

Asked whether it made sense to pay the consulting firm over $500,000 for recommendations in light of Adams' work, Sullivan said, "That (MGT) report gave us very objective information from which to work. I don't think Dr. Adams could have done what we asked him to do without that report."

Among those supporting Adams' recommendations was Peter Downs, a member of the elected board and a critic of some SAB policies. Downs said he was pleased by Adams' presentation but said the real challenge in public education in the city was declining enrollment. He said students that have left haven't all gone to charter schools but probably have moved out of the district.

"You can't blame charters, but you can blame city policy that says 'We want charter school choice' instead of improving public schools," Downs said.

In an interview following his presentation, Adams also talked about the need for more outreach to parents and other stakeholders, and he embraced the full service community school concept, which involves putting more social services and community services in school buildings. Mary Armstrong, president of the St. Louis teachers' union, Local 420, saw plenty of good suggestions in Adams' presentation. She was especially pleased by discussions about full service community schools. Adams acknowledged in an interview that that idea stemmed partly from dialogue with teachers and residents.

Some parents and students also were pleased, judging from the amount of clapping heard after Adams announced that schools such as McKinley, Gateway and Gallaudet would remain open at their current sites.

Adams is urging that Gateway be remodeled or that a new school be built. He also said the district needs to make a strong recruitment effort to increase enrollment at McKinley, and that Gallaudet also needed to boost its enrollment.

In addition to Gallaudet, McKinley and Gateway, schools that Adams called for leaving open include: Henry, Mallinckrodt, Ames, Shaw, Shenandoah, Hickey, Bunch, L'Ouverture, Langston, Stevens, Nottingham, Cleveland and Northwest.

Schools that he would close in June of this year are: Ashland, Baden, Clark, Des Peres, Mark Twain, Washington, Scruggs, Shepard, Simmons, Blewett, Stowe, Turner, Roosevelt, and Kottmeyer. He also would recommended closing Cote Brilliante, Mann and Sherman in June of 2011.

Initially, there was an outcry among some North Side residents that Sumner would be among schools that MGT would target for shutdown. But the high school wasn't on MGT's list; nor was it mentioned by Adams in his presentation Thursday night.

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