Hazelwood School Board moves meeting to accommodate crowd

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KTVI)- Hazelwood's School District hopes to accommodate more students and parents at Tuesday night's school board meeting by moving it to the auditorium inside the Hazelwood East Early Childhood Education Center in north St. Louis County.

A large crowd is expected. As of Tuesday morning, at least 250 people had signed an online petition calling for the immediate resignation of Interim Superintendent Clark-Jackson. Hazelwood officials say the new venue will seat at least 500 people.

Dozens of parents, many already outraged over news of budget cuts, were unable to get into the school board's mid-February meeting at the district's administration building after it filled to capacity. They felt their voices were silenced as the school board approved budget cuts to music and physical education in elementary schools. The cuts are in response to a $12.7 million budget deficit the District attributes to a $15.7 million loss in revenue from property taxes.

Starting next school year, band/orchestra will only be offered after school instead of before or during. The district is also cutting the time students receive for P.E. while eliminating 16 faculty positions, but school leaders says those teachers are dually-certified and have already been placed back in classrooms.

"Kids are getting the required amount of P.E., like they should, and we still have music in our schools," said Interim Superintendent Ingrid Clark-Jackson. "We did not want to cut areas with reading, writing, science, and arithmetic because those are the core things children need. We're not cutting any programs. We are restructuring.”

Parents like Kimberly Gonzalez are not satisfied. She launched the online petition demanding the interim superintendent’s removal and spoke with FOX 2 in a “You Paid For It” special. Those parents garnered the support of Missouri House Representative Keith English, an independent who represents part of Florissant. In a public letter, English asked the school board to dismiss Clark-Jackson, "clean house," and "return to a simpler time when the values of the district and the voices of the hardworking taxpayers mattered."

District officials contend parents, students and teachers were involved in the decision-making process. Whitlock says parents and students were openly invited to be part of the committee that eventually recommended the cuts. And the district provided results of a 2013 survey of 1,700 teachers and parents who voted for positions, compensation and benefits only to be cut as a last resort.

School board president Desiree Whitlock, defended the Interim Superintendent Tuesday morning, and said the district began making cuts years ago, starting with top administrators. "We are not happy about making these cuts. We did what we had to do because we want this district to be solvent," Whitlock said. "The buck stops with the board."

Whitlock also released her letter in response to Rep. English disputing his accusations, and adding, "Dr. Clark-Jackson, who generously postponed her retirement to serve as our Interim Superintendent while the Board conducts a search for new superintendent this school year, is only implementing the Board’s decisions."

Board members like Whitlock are not paid for their roles, but administrators are.

Records from Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) show in 2015, Hazelwood's superintendent was paid $230,308 annually. St. Louis City's student population is substantially larger, but paid its superintendent $5,000 less. Rockwood, also bigger, paid $5,000 more.

Hazelwood officials say in 2016, the interim superintendent was only paid $220,000.

The state's highest paid superintendent is in Lees' Summit, earning $294,463 each year. Data shows Hazelwood pays less than average, though. A report from the Council of Great City Schools shows superintendents made approximately $242,000 each in 2014. But Hazelwood spends more money overall on administrators than both St. Louis and Rockwood.

Parents feel when faced with such a huge deficit, the weight should fall on the shoulders of those responsible for balancing the budget, and that students should not have to sacrifice with cuts programs. Hundreds who plan to attend tonight’s school board meeting say they’ll press the board on that.

Hazelwood’s School Board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. inside the auditorium at the Hazelwood East Childhood Early Education Center on Partridge Run Drive in Florrisant.