After almost a dozen years of state control that have seen increased stability, rising attendance rates, climbing test scores, and a budget deficit turned into a surplus in the St. Louis Public Schools, the city’s elected school board is about to regain control of the school system.
On Tuesday, the Missouri State Board of Education meets in St. Louis and will vote to return control to the seven-member elected board, despite concerns that the last time a local elected board ran the schools, the system was plagued by political infighting, loss of academic accreditation, and a school board that seemed to be less of an educational organization than a years-long audition for reality television, complete with an Old testament curse placed on the Mayor by a board member.
Despite that, Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams, who was hired by the state-appointed board in 2008, says he’s confident that the school system’s recent progress won’t be derailed by shenanigans such as 2003’s “curse” placed on then-Mayor Francis Slay by then-board member Rochelle Moore.
“I am not concerned. I frankly am not at all. I’ve been working with the board for the last year, the elected board, as we walked through a transition process,” Adams said. “I think the elected board is really conscientious about learning about the district. I’m confident they’ve prepared themselves. I’m very, very hopeful.”
When Adams was hired by the appointed Special Administrative Board in 2008, the St. Louis Public Schools had around 30,000 students, had lost it’s academic accreditation, faced a $25 million budget deficit, and was coming off of six years of turmoil that saw four superintendents come and go.
Eleven years later, there are only 21,000 students in the city’s schools. Full academic accreditation has been restored, the deficit has turned into a $72 million dollar surplus, Dr. Adams has been the only superintendent for over a decade, and the three members of the appointed board have run the schools from 2007 until next July, when the elected board formally regains control.
Adams says the academic and financial turnaround of the city schools has been due to that longevity. “If I had to name one thing responsible for the positive changes, it would be stability,” Adams said. “You’ve had a superintendent in place for the past 10, 11 years. You’ve had the same three board members. The stability of the board has been key.”
Adams noted the elected board has been holding meetings open to the public for months, has been going over the same paperwork and documents as the appointed board, and has even been holding mock votes on everything from budget to curriculum issues. All of that, said Adams, should give the public confidence that this elected board won’t be returning to the antics of the elected board of 2007, which included then-Board President Veronica O’Brien barging into then-Superintendent Diana Bourisaw’s office and snatching the phone from Bourisaw’s hand while she was talking to a state senator.
Adams said the elected board will be involved almost immediately in decisions about the school district’s future, from finding extra money to help with food, counseling, and even job training for many of the district’s poorer students, some 4,500 of whom are homeless, to deciding which if the city’s school buildings need to be closed and the schools themselves consolidated with other schools.
Adams said the school closings would be necessary for the same reason the school system has lost nearly one-third of its students in the last decade—the city’s continuing population loss.