ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KTVI) - A public hearing turned fiery Tuesday night, as passionate community members spoke out against DESE’s proposed plan to improve school districts across Missouri.
The public hearing, held at UMSL, began with a DESE official outlining the proposed State Support and Intervention Plan. It focuses on ways to help schools, and prevent them from losing their accreditation.
The meeting was held to gather feedback on the plan, but most of the comments centered on Normandy, the failing district that faces bankruptcy this spring. The bankruptcy is mainly because the district has to pay tuition for students who transferred to higher performing districts, like Francis Howell.
Many speakers at the meeting felt DESE’s plan doesn’t do enough to help districts already in trouble, like Normandy, and are adamant that the controversial school transfer program isn’t helping.
Even Francis Howell’s superintendent got up to speak. She feels the transfer students are missing out on extracurricular activities and parental involvement, since they attend school outside their own communities.
Maryville University Professor Emeritus Dan Rocchio also spoke out against the transfer program: “We need to be changing the system within the district, as opposed to spending money to send kids outside the district.”
Several Normandy and Francis Howell transfer students also shared their thoughts on the idea of Normandy ceasing to exist. Normandy High School Junior Kenny Branch laments, “These teachers, principals, everybody to the janitors and bus drivers, and I love them to death, that’s why I’m so passionate.”
In response to the criticisms aimed at DESE, Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro says she’s happy community members spoke their minds. Still, she says impassioned pleas to save Normandy won’t fix its deep financial difficulties: “The whole situation with Normandy is certainly at a different juncture than all the other districts we’re talking about. Unless something significant happens in the legislature to alter the course, it’s pretty clear that the transfer program expenditures will cause the district to go bankrupt.”
Meanwhile, supporters of DESE’s plan appreciate that it’s flexible. For every category of accreditation, the plan offers a variety of different paths for improvement. The plan is still a draft; DESE will present the final form to the State Board of Education on March 21st.