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Education

Groups rally for Normandy schools, call for tuition cap on transfers

Normandy parents and community members discuss an update on Normandy Schools Saturday March, 14, 2015.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Normandy parents and community members discuss an update on Normandy Schools Saturday March, 14, 2015.

Editor's note: HB 42 in its current form has been amended to reduce tuition using a formula instead of capping it at 70 percent of the receiving district's tuition. On March 18, the Senate Education Committee approved the bill for consideration by the full Senate. 

With looming budget concerns and student transfer bills on the fast-track to becoming law, St. Louis nonprofit Beyond Housing held a call to action for Normandy schools on Saturday.

“We’re in a crisis,” Vontrece McDowell with Beyond Housing told the more than 100 community members who attended the meeting.  

In partnership with Metropolitan Congregations United, Beyond Housing rallied Normandy parents and citizens to contact state senators about adding a tuition cap to the student transfer bills under consideration in Jefferson City.

“If a cap is not made mandatory in the bill, then our district is at risk of going bankrupt and our schools will be gone,” McDowell said.

Interim Normandy superintendent Charles Pearson.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Interim Normandy superintendent Charles Pearson.

According to interim Superintendent Charles Pearson, Normandy’s finances will become fragile if 530 students transfer next year and would become insolvent if 900 students do. The transfer number is hovering around 500 currently, and parents have until April 1 to make the choice to transfer.

One of the central principles of Beyond Housing as a community development organization is that a strong school creates a strong community, so Beyond Housing is an advocate for keeping students and schools local.

State Rep. Clem Smith, D-Velda Village Hills, whose district includes Normandy, also spoke at the rally, urging community members to call their state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City.

“You’ve seen the numbers. If (a tuition cap) doesn’t happen the district goes bankrupt. Students just get dispersed and then (unaccreditation) may happen again in Jennings because they’re going to go to Jennings, they’re going to go to Ritenour, they're going to go to Ferguson-Florissant,” Smith said. “So there has to be a financial fix in all of these transfers.”

Mo. Rep. Clem Smith (D-Velda Village Hills).
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Mo. Rep. Clem Smith (D-Velda Village Hills).

Smith attempted to amend the House version of the student transfer bill to include a tuition cap, but the House passed the bill, H.B. 42, without approving his amendment. The bill is currently is being considered by the Senate.

As it stands now, both the House and the Senate version of the student transfer bill gives receiving districts the option to cap tuition at 70 percent in exchange for waiting five years before including the transfer students’ test scores in their state evaluations.

But as an audience member pointed out, 70 percent of Clayton’s tuition (about $20,000) is still quite a bit more than Normandy’s tuition rate of less than $8,000.

Normandy parent Bobbie Boclair said she didn’t realize before the rally that the legislation would let receiving districts omit transfer student test scores for five years.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” Boclair said, adding that learning that fact adds to her motivation to contact state legislators.

Bobbie Boclair is the mother of a Normandy senior and 8th grader.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Bobbie Boclair is the mother of a Normandy senior and 8th grader.

“I have an eighth grader that wants to finish at Normandy, so it does motivate me to write letters and hopefully my voice will be heard…because I want Normandy to exist,” she said.

According to Pearson, Normandy’s Joint Executive Governing Board is not in favor of the five-year delay in test scores either.

“We’re willing to say OK maybe one or two but not five because what could happen candidly is a child could end up never getting tested,” Pearson said. “If a district has transient children such as ours, a child may never be there long enough for them to be accountable.”  

In addition to the immediate call to contact state legislators, Beyond Housing and MCU called for Normandy parents and residents to join them April 1 in Jefferson City for Child Advocacy Day and to sign up for MCU’s parenting education class.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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