A task force assigned with recommending how St. Louis Public Schools should be governed heard a consistent message from city residents during a series of public meetings: Return control of the district back to an elected board of education.
At three meetings over the past 10 days, St. Louis residents repeatedly said that the appointed, three-person Special Administrative Board, or SAB, has achieved its objective during a decade of running SLPS — and contended that a democratically elected board should control the district again.
The SAB has run SLPS since 2007, taking control following years of slumping academic performance, inconsistent leadership and poor finances. The state stripped the elected board of education of governing authority, though the body has continued to hold elections and meetings. Instead, the SAB has effectively run the district, with the governor, mayor and Board of Alderman president each appointing one member.
“Intentions might have been good at first, but they did their jobs, it’s time to move over and let the school board take over,” said Darryl Smith, a concerned citizen, at the first meeting.
Members of the SAB agree. Rick Gaines, who is also president of the governance task force, has said they have no intention of ruling indefinitely.
The hitch is the law that stripped the elected board of power and put in place the SAB doesn’t lay out how returning to an elected board would actually work. Presently, the SAB is authorized by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education through 2019.
Over the three meetings, a panel of teachers, parents and community members listened to presentations on three forms of public school governance: An elected board, an appointed board, or a board with a mix of elected and appointed members.
No one type of district governance is a direct cause of student success, according to Michael Casserly. He’s the executive director of Great City Schools, a collective of some of the nation’s largest school systems. He presented at the task force’s third meeting.
Casserly contends that the success of a district is dependent on the members of the governing board and their intentions and mission. Any board structure, he continued, can succumb to the same pitfalls.
“When the board becomes dysfunctional, and it happens to any board of any type, the district’s chances of success for its students are severely limited,” Casserly said.
Panelists and parents publicly questioned why St. Louis and neighboring Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts, where students are predominately poor and minority, have been the subject of state takeovers.
Parent Katie Berry is wary of continuing to allow elected officials to decide who controls the city’s school board instead of residents.
“Having partisan politics dictate the curriculum in my child’s education, I would find concerning,” she said Monday night.
Switching to a hybrid board model would require new legislation. The task force says it plans to make a recommendation to state education officials by January, in time for the legislative session.
Residents wanting to expess their opinion on SLPS’ future governance may leave comments or fill out a survey at the district’s website.
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