MO State Board Reinstates Local Control of SLPS

 
 
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Today, St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) is set to mark another major milestone. After 12 years of governance under a special administrative board (SAB), the State Board of Education will vote to return governance authority to the locally-elected board of education. The figure below shows a timeline of major events of SLPS’s governance transfer.

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In 2007, the Missouri State Board of Education formally voted on and removed state accreditation from St. Louis Public Schools. Because of this loss of accreditation, the State Board of Education created a three-person Special Administrative Board (SAB), with one member appointed by the Governor, one by the Mayor of St. Louis, and one member by the President of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. While one member of the SAB may have changed over the last 12 years, they have maintained the explicit purpose of stabilizing district leadership and finances, improving academic performance, and regaining accreditation. SLPS has enjoyed stable leadership in its superintendent, Dr. Kelvin Adams, who has served in the same role since his original appointment in 2008. To regain accreditation, SLPS needed to meet the minimum requirements (maintaining a score of 70 or above on the Missouri APR) in the state’s accountability system, which it did in 2017.

While the district has been under the governing control of the SAB, St. Louisans have continued voting on members to serve on the elected board, which has served in an advisory capacity. Earlier this month, voters in St. Louis elected two new members (Adam Layne and Tracee A. Miller) to the seven-member elected board. With this decision today from the state board, the appointed board will return responsibilities to the elected officials. As it stands today, the elected board includes President Dorothy Rohde-Collins, Vice President Charli Cooksey, Secretary Natalie Vowell, Ms. Donna Jones, Ms. Susan Jones, Dr. Joyce Roberts, and Ms. Katie Wessling. Donna Jones has served on the board since 2006 and is the only member who served prior to the SAB appointment.

The State Board of Education has assumed control of other school districts in the past. In 2010, Wellston School District merged with the Normandy School District after years of Wellston losing and regaining accreditation. In other instances, the state board has created new entities such as reconstituting the Normandy School District into the Normandy Schools Collaborative and establishing a Joint Executive Governing Board, another type of SAB. As you can see, state law allows the state board to alter its approach to each instance of state takeover.

In the case of SLPS, state law created a governance structure unique to the city district that included the district being identified as a “transitional school district”. Governance authority will only go back to the elected board after the state board concludes the SAB has fulfilled its original purpose for which it was convened. The State Board of Education has reviewed the progress of SLPS and renewed the SAB four times since it was established in 2007. The most recent renewal in February 2016 is effective through June 30, 2019.

As the State Board of Education considers the return of governance of St. Louis Public Schools to the elected board, there are only two choices -- reinstate the full elected board or retain the SAB. State law does not allow for a gradually transitioning authority by staggering the reinstatement of elected board members. Instead, the state board of education must vote to reinstate the full elected board or retain the SAB. With SLPS maintaining stable leadership, regaining accreditation in 2017, and no longer operating in deficit, all signs indicate the elected board will regain its authority. For SLPS, maintaining this positive momentum and continuing to improve will be essential to long-term success.

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This week we will publish a policy brief that takes an in-depth look at local school governance and state takeovers, including the rationale and actions other states have taken when they assumed control of a local school district. From the Recovery School District of New Orleans to Tennessee’s Achievement School District, we will look at examples of where state oversight has resulted in better outcomes, and instances where state takeover has not been successful. What are the keys to a successful transition back to an elected board? St. Louis Public Schools has its own unique history and set of circumstances that led governance changes, but Missouri can and should take note of other states’ lessons learned.

 

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Stacey Preis