© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Education

St. Louis Public Schools Will Close 8 Schools, Sparing 3

Students leave Dunbar Elementary School in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. The school has space for 522 students but enrolled just 155 in September. Jan. 9, 2019.
File photo / Ryan Delaney
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Students leave Dunbar Elementary School in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. The school will close this spring.

St. Louis Public Schools moved forward with a plan Tuesday night to reduce the number of schools in the district, deciding to close at least eight schools but giving three other schools a reprieve.

The city’s school board voted 4-3 after more than two hours of debate to close a smaller list of schools than it considered late last year.

The closures are an effort to put more funding toward support services and academics, rather than facilities costs, as the district continues to lose students and operate half-empty buildings.

Six schools will close after this school year: Clay, Dunbar, Farragut and Ford elementary schools; Fanning middle; and Northwest High School. Cleveland High School will close, but the building it’s in will continue to house Central Visual Performing Arts High School. Carnahan High School will be converted to a middle school.

The list could grow to nine. The historic Sumner High School will be considered for closure in March, giving time for Harris-Stowe State University to finalize a plan to support the school. Sumner opened in 1875 as the first high school for African Americans west of the Mississippi. Harris-Stowe is a historically Black college.

The consolidation was first brought up in December as a proposal to close 11 schools, but community backlash prompted Superintendent Kelvin Adams to ask for a delay in order to hold more conversations. Adams had already spent nearly a year discussing right-sizing the district.

After 20 conversations with community organizations, alumni groups and others, Adams recalculated. Most of the proposals would require more time and resources than could come together by spring, Adams said. Still, Hickey and Monroe elementary schools will stay open in hopes they can grow enrollment.

SLPS was built out during the past century for a student population that once was more than 110,000. Today, just over 21,300 students are spread across 68 buildings, some more than a century old and in poor structural shape.

Having fewer buildings to maintain will increase per-student funding, Adams said. He’s proposed hiring more school nurses, counselors and tutors and increasing internships, electives and advanced courses.

“I think there are clearly systemic equity issues within our city that we have a role in rectifying, but if we continue to operate as many schools as we have, I don’t know how we fix this,” said board President Dorothy Rohde Collins.

St. Louis Public Schools Will Close 8 Schools, Sparing 3
In this episode of "St. Louis on the Air," education reporter Ryan Delaney discusses the move by St. Louis Public Schools to reduce the number of schools in the district — closing at least eight schools and giving three others a reprieve — in an effort to put more funding toward support services and academics, rather than facilities costs.

Even with the consolidation, SLPS will be spread across more buildings than suburban districts with similar numbers of students. Demographic projections and planned new charter schools foretell a further shrinking district.

“Members of this board will have to deal with this again unless something bigger happens,” Adams said.

Adams called for a moratorium on new charter schools, which are independently run and governed. There is also increasing scrutiny on incentives given to developers, which reduce the property tax revenue that goes to the district.

“We keep saying and acting as though closing these schools is the only funding source to these kids having a better life,” said board member Susan Jones, “and that is simply not true.”

With this round of closures, six more buildings will go on the district’s list of surplus properties up for sale. There are already 18 buildings on the list.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.