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School board approves teachers contract, trims spending by $53 million

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 28, 2009 - The St. Louis Special Administrative Board voted Thursday night to approve an operating budget of $289 million and trim spending by another $53 million to prevent starting the next school term in red ink. The board also approved a two-year contract that calls for 3 percent pay raises each year for members of teachers union Local 420.

Most of the $53 million in spending cuts needed to head off a deficit came from shuttering several schools, reducing general and central office staff positions and eliminating substitute teachers. Only two board members – Rick Sullivan and Melanie Adams – attended the meeting. The third member, Richard Gaines, was out of town.

Sullivan, president of the SAB, said he was pleased that the district could begin the next term with a balanced budget while retaining all certified teachers. He also said the district expected summer school enrollment to increase by about 33 percent over last year, and he hoped that enrollment in the school district would begin to stabilize in the fall. Even so, the district had projected a loss of about 1,000 students to charter schools in the next school term.

Sullivan praised work by Superintendent Kelvin Adams and Adams’ staff for academic initiatives, such as a four-week summer training program for city school principals. “That’s significant,” Sullivan said. “It’s something that hasn’t been done in the past. (Adams) also has increased the amount and quality of professional development.”

Sullivan also pointed to Adams’ work with Local 420 leaders to iron out a new contract. About 95 percent of teachers and paraprofessionals voted Wednesday night to ratify the contract after rejecting a proposal about a week earlier. The stumbling blocks, union members said, had been issues involving discipline and seniority language.

In addition to the pay raise, the contract “maintains insurance benefits and provides a high quality retirement package,” Sullivan said in a statement.

He said the next step was for the district and the union to work on several new academic initiatives. These include improving school programs that focus on homework assistance and other activities that contribute to academic achievement; raising graduation rate; and creating a teacher peer review and evaluation process that the district said would be modeled after a similar program in Toledo.

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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