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Transfer plans raise concerns for students, districts

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 11, 2013: Under Missouri's school transfer law, students who live in unaccredited school districts may choose to attend a nearby, accredited district. The sending district must pay the students' tuition and must designate one district to which it will also pay transportation costs. 

In the St. Louis area, the Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts have lost their accreditation from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Riverview Gardens lost its accreditation in 2007 and Normandy lost it as of Jan. 1, 2013.

Recently, Normandy chose Francis Howell in St. Charles County as the district to which it will pay transportation costs for any Normandy residents who transfer. Riverview Gardens this week chose Mehlville, in south St. Louis County, as its designated transportation district.

Those choices have drawn quick, heartfelt and sometimes heated responses. The Beacon, through its Public Insight Network, asked readers to share what these decisions mean to them, and to the children involved.

The responders focused on what expectations or concerns they have about any transfers, and whether the state law that allows these transfers is fair or should be changed.

Here we share a sampling of the responses we received. They have been edited for length or clarity.

Deborah Davis, St. Charles

Davis, 63, is a retired Pattonville teacher and an educational activist who is concerned about public education.

"When the parents who understand how to access this system move their children, and I don't blame them, the remaining students in the unaccredited district will have a much diminished school left over. These children (are the ones) who need our help the most. These will be the children of absent parents, substance abusers, parents who don't care or don't understand. We need to get the school district accredited instead of abandoning it. This is another ploy of the wealthy right wing who want to privatize education."

Lisa Thompson, St. Louis

Thompson, 42, is an assistant principal at Hanna Woods Elementary School in the Parkway district. 

"My children are in the transfer program, and so was I as a student. I believe parents need to understand the importance of their presence and involvement, should they choose to transfer. Many people will have preconceived notions about them and their children. They should also be asking important questions, such as what resources or supports will be available to their children if they transfer?

"I'm sure the curriculum will be different and realistically they will experience some degree of culture shock. How is the district planning to train teachers to receive these students? They will certainly need some diversity training."

Thompson wrote that she believes the state law that allows students living in unaccredited districts to transfer elsewhere is fair, "but someone needs to define 'nearby'. How many closer districts did Normandy overlook when they chose Francis Howell? Did they purposely choose a district so far away to deter parents from exercising this option?"

Carl Peterson, St. Charles

Peterson, 69, lives in the Francis Howell School District.

"I was president of Ferguson-Florissant School District in the 1980s and saw what busing did to our school district. It flat doesn't work. Only proper funding really works.

"The law doesn't need to be changed, the funding does. At-risk children need lower class sizes, preschool, longer school year, and special needs help. It doesn't make any difference where they get it. But with Missouri mired in 42nd (place) in funding education, (students) can't get (what they need) no matter where they are.

"The original transfer law has been around for over 40 years, but in 1993 in the rewriting of the education law, the transfer law lost the words 'but no school or school district shall be required to admit any pupil.' Those words need to be put back in."

J.D. Wolfe, Manchester

Wolfe, 64, identifies herself as a "taxpayer and a citizen who is very concerned about public (and private) education."

Wolfe wrote that she believes allowing students to transfer is fair, in the short term. "It is the best solution to an overwhelming problem." However, she considers transfers "a stop-gap procedure, because local autonomy over schools should be a priority in each community. Kids shouldn't have to ride a bus or take a taxi for two or more hours a day just to get an education."

"First, schools should be neighborhood based. Second, educational dollars are not best spent on transportation. Third, local budgets for schooling (based on student enrollment) should be equalized across the state and even the entire U.S. The educational system is fundamentally broken — probably beyond repair. Our kids are worth far more of our resources than are stadiums, sports and music personalities, and the military. Without a competently educated populace, we will not retain our independence or be able to keep up with technology, research, etc., in the near and distant future."

Jerry Benner, Ferguson

Benner, 70, is retired as a teacher in the Parkway district, which participates in the voluntary transfer program with students from the St. Louis Public Schools.

"I live in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. I would expect any incoming child to enter at their level and the school to pick them up where they are. I would expect the incoming family to follow the guidelines of the new district. I would also expect the new district to offer some in-service for faculty to prepare them for these incoming students — who may or may not be different.

"As a retired educator, I am concerned that the school not be overloaded, space wise and class wise, by the incoming students. Having been part of the VTS program, I know that the faculty was never adequately prepared for the differences in students and behavior. I am also concerned about the affect students from the most responsible homes leaving a district has. If many of the best students leave, what chance does that school have of improving on the one measure of accreditation: tests.

From his experience as an educator in a school district that received students through the voluntary transfer program, Benner offered these suggestions:

  • "Do not assume an African-American student is from the city (of St. Louis).
  • "All black students are not African.
  • "Discipline and conduct in the St. Louis Public Schools are not the same as in west county school districts. West county schools rely more on a student's individual control and less on school control.

"I never felt that because I bought a house before I had kids, that that should determine where my kids go to school. Neighborhood schools are great, but an individual school may not be appropriate for some individuals. One should have a choice in picking an appropriate school for your child."
Julie Cruise, University City

Cruise, 55, is a Normandy alumna, and she wrote that she believes the transfer rule "seems fair to me."

"This is a sad day for the Normandy School District. It was once a very good place to get an education."

Outreach specialist Linda Lockhart has been telling stories for most of her life. A graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, she has worked at several newspapers around the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a reporter, copy editor, make-up editor, night city editor, wire editor, Metro Section editor and editorial writer. She served the St. Louis Beacon as analyst for the Public Insight Network, a product of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media that helps connect journalists with news sources. She continues using the PIN to help inform the news content of St. Louis Public Radio. She is a St. Louis native and lives in Kirkwood.

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