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Missouri ed board to stay out of St. Louis Public Schools’ local control talks

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 3:20 p.m. Aug. 15 with details from the State Board of Education meeting — Missouri’s board of education will stay out of the process to return decision-making control to St. Louis Public Schools after a decade, at least for now.

The decision came Tuesday at the Missouri State Board of Education meeting.

Though ending state oversight of SLPS is up to the board, it has no obligation to be involved in the transition process.

The board agreed with Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven’s recommendation that the transition process be worked out locally.

A three-person state-appointed panel, known formally as a Special Administrative Board, or SAB, has guided St. Louis schools since 2007, stripping the elected school board of its power.

State education officials were involved in transition talks that happened last summer but stalled, but said they see no need to be at the table again because both sides have expressed interest in working together.

“We’re not going to be prescriptive in how that happens,” state board president Charles Shields said.

The SAB sent the elected board a letter in June offering to hold joint open meetings.

“If they are now communicating, I think it would be most appropriate for us to step back in the spirit of local governance and let that process move forward,” board member Mike Jones said.

Vandeven also stayed away from providing a timeline. The SAB is authorized through at least 2019.

“To date, this board has not been in a position to say as of ‘x time’ we’re ready to transition,” she said. “The board’s been much more interested in performance.”

Original story from Aug. 15:

The three state-appointed people who make decisions for the St. Louis Public Schools believe their work is nearing completion and that it’s the right time to restart talks about returning control to the locally elected board.

To that end, the State Board of Education is scheduled to discuss the topic at Tuesday’s meeting. The challenge: There’s nothing in Missouri statute that details how to hand back power.

The state stripped the district’s elected board of its decision-making capabilities a decade ago because the schools were failing, finances were in disarray and leadership was inconsistent.

The elected board still holds elections and meetings, but has no authority over the district. But St. Louis Public Schools regained accreditation in January and Superintendent Kelvin Adams is entering his 10th school year with SLPS.

The panel that took over, known formally as a Special Administrative Board, or SAB, sent the elected board president Susan Jones a letter in June saying it’s an “opportune time” to resume transition talks that briefly took place a year ago but abruptly ended.

“Now that the district is fully accredited, we believe the work of the SAB is near completion and the time is right for the St. Louis community to begin planning for the post-SAB future,” the letter said.

SAB President Rick Sullivan declined to comment, saying the letter speaks for itself.

St. Louis Public Schools Elected Board President Susan Jones at an April 12, 2017 meeting.
Credit file photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Schools Elected Board President Susan Jones is pictured at an April meeting.

Jones told St. Louis Public Radio that nothing has changed for the elected board.

“The elected board has always been in the position (to) and wanted to continue these transition talks,” she said. “I think we are in a good place as a board to move forward.”

Last year’s negotiations were held in secret, and were interrupted when former board member Bill Monroe demanded access to the closed door meetings. Instead of subjecting the talks to open-meeting rules, state education officials decided to postpone them until after the April elections, when Monroe was up for re-election. He didn’t win.

The SAB also has invited Jones and one other board member to participate in its meetings in a consultative role. Jones said she hasn’t made a decision on that offer.

Riverview Gardens School District and Normandy Schools Collaborative, in northern St. Louis County, are also both under state control. Riverview Gardens has since been granted provisional accreditation from the state, but spokeswoman Melanie Powell-Robinson said there have been no formal talks over returning to local control.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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