ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) - A wave of school transfers spurred by a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling is opening old wounds and reviving difficult conversations in St. Louis about race, class and equal access to public education.
Nearly 2,600 students from the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts are leaving for better-performing schools in other districts, with the two troubled districts required to pay an estimated $30 million to accommodate the moves. School leaders say it's only a matter of time before they go bankrupt.
Parents, politicians and community leaders in some outlying districts say they worry the newcomers will bring increased delinquency, larger class sizes and lower test scores. Much of the outrage was on display last month at public school board meeting of the Francis Howell district, which begins classes on Thursday.
School starts in Kirkwood on August 20th and Tuesday night parents in the south county district learned how their schools will be affected by the transfer of more than 150 students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens.
Kirkwood School Board spokesperson Ginger Cayce says class sizes may fluctuate slightly, but not enough to cause concern. Cayce says the $12,000 per transfer student that the district will receive will cover the cost of any extra resources needed. Cayce says the money would be spent on "technology, support staff resources, and any additional teachers or teachers aides we might need in the classroom."
About 650 people attended Tuesday night's meeting at Kirkwood High. There were questions about test scores and athletic opportunities, but most showed support for the students coming from the unaccredited districts. One man even donated money to help cover "incidental costs" for transfer students. He called on others with the means to do so as well.
Mehlville Superintendent Dr. Eric Knost says the district is making every effort to place students transferring in from Riverview Gardens without compromising the education of any student in the district.
Knost released a statement Monday evening in response to a lawsuit from the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri on behalf of three Riverview Gardens parents.
Mehlville has limited the number students it will accept from the unaccredited district in an effort to retain current class size limits and staffing levels, but the school-choice advocacy group says there's room for more than the 216 the district has accepted.
Knost says the District will work with legal counsel to respond appropriately to the court action.
As the start of the new school year fast approaches, more than 300 students who want to transfer out of the troubled Riverview Gardens and Normandy school districts still don't know where they'll attend classes. That's because of the limited availability of open seats in some districts they've applied to attend.
Many students didn't get into one of their first three choices of districts, or didn't list more than one choice. So officials with the Cooperating School Districts have extended the application deadline for the still unassigned transfer students.
Families can submit a new list of choices. Those who don't re-apply on the Cooperating School Districts website by noon Monday will not be able to transfer out of the unaccredited districts.
All of the Normandy students transferring to Francis Howell Districts did get their requests filled. About 2,400 Riverview Garden students have also received transfer assignments.
The Mehlville school district won't hire more teacher or enlarge class sizes in order to accommodate students transferring in from the unaccredited Riverview Gardens School District.
The Mehlville school board supported their superintendent's position and set class size limits Thursday night. That will allow the district to accept only 150 of the roughly 450 students who've applied to transfer.
A lottery will be held August 2nd to determine which students can make the switch from Riverview Gardens to Mehlville.
More than 200 parents attended last night's school board meeting at Mehlville High School. Many expressed concerns about the cost of busing and the number of hours students will spend in transit. Others were concerned that the transfer students will put a drain on the Mehlville district.
Mehlville Superintendent Dr. Eric Knost has said that maintaining the district's small class sizes is key to maintaining educational excellence.
As the August 1 transfer deadline looms for students in the unaccredited Riverview Gardens School District, a snag has developed that could throw the whole process into chaos.
Riverview officials will have to pick a second district to bus students to. That's because the first district they selected, Mehlville, reports that they only have room for about 150 transfer students, about one-third of the more than 400 who've applied to transfer.
Under state guidelines the Riverview Gardens District must now choose a second district where it will provide free bus transportation.
Students were required to list their top three choices of schools on their transfer applications. And that information could help Riverview officials select the second destination district.
Riverview Gardens officials have not yet selected a second district for free bus transportation.
Officials with the Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts are hoping they can talk parents into keeping their kids enrolled as they try to rebuild the failing districts.
About 1,000 people gathered Monday night to listen to improvement plans from both districts' superintendents at a meeting at Shalom Church City of Peace in Florissant. Both men took over leadership of their districts on July 1.
So far, more than 1,300 students have applied to transfer out of the unaccredited districts. Both superintendents admit that will hurt the districts financially.
Riverview superintendent Scott Spurgeon said, "Any student, even one child that wants to leave our district, certainly would have a financial impact on us."
"I don't think it will bankrupt us, but it might put us in financial distress," Normandy Superintendent Ty McNichols said.
Superintendents of Jennings, Hazelwood and Ferguson-Florissant school districts attended the meeting to show support for those charged with rebuilding the failing districts. But also say they'll welcome any students who chose to transfer.
The transfer application deadline is August 1.
Many parents in the Francis Howell School District say they're concerned about the impact of students from the unaccredited Normandy District transferring to their schools. Several sounded off at a town hall meeting Thursday night at Howell Central High School in Cottleville.
Some expresses concerns about resources being channeled to transferring students who are academically behind. Other's were concerned that about violence that may come to Francis Howell from Normandy, a district that has struggled with violence in its schools.
Francis Howell superintendent Dr. Pam Sloan spoke openly about her opposition to the transfers, saying that busing kids to a new district isn't the way to fix a failing one.
But not everyone in the district is so concerned. Francis Howell senior class president Eric Lee cautioned the crowd not to make assumptions about the students transferring in from Normandy. Lee said it's not right to assume the kids who choose to transfer are going to cause problems.
District officials won't know until August 2nd how many Normandy students plan to transfer.
Many parents in the unaccredited Riverview Gardens school district are unhappy after district officials announced they'll bus students to the Mehlville School District in order to comply with a Missouri Supreme Court ruling. The South County district is about 30 miles from the failing one in North County.
Parents aren't the only one's expressing concerns. Mehlville's superintendent says his district lacks the space for transferring students. Eric Knost says his district welcomes the transferring students, but warns that Mehville's classrooms are already at capacity.
Riverview officials say they're working to re-earn accreditation quickly and hope that parents will keep their kids enrolled there.
Normandy School District officials will meet with parents Tuesday to answer their questions after announcing that the unaccredited district will pay to bus students to schools in the Francis Howell District in St. Charles beginning this fall.
The announcement comes on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling allowing students attending unaccredited districts to transfer to high performing schools.
All Normandy students in grades K-12 can participate in the transfer program at the district's expense. Parents can begin the transfer process July 9th at Normandy School District headquarters.
Tuesday's meeting with parents begins at 3 p.m. at the Normandy District offices.