Normandy district won’t pay for student transfers

An unaccredited school district in St. Louis County is balking at paying the bill for students who transferred to higher performing districts, putting the district at odds with Missouri state law.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Normandy school board on Thursday rejected paying the most recent tuition and transportation costs for hundreds of students who chose to go elsewhere.

The move means that about $1.3 million will not go to 14 districts where the Normandy students transferred.

The Normandy board also voted to close Bel-Nor Elementary School effective Dec. 20 and lay off 103 employees, mostly teachers, in cost-cutting moves that will save more than $3 million this school year.

Normandy is one of two unaccredited districts in St. Louis County. The other is Riverview Gardens.

Both districts are cutting their budgets because both lost state accreditation and now have to pay for their students who want to transfer to neighboring districts. A Missouri Supreme Court ruling last summer allowed students in unaccredited districts to transfer – with the sending districts paying for tuition and transportation.

The unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools also faces the prospect of student transfers, perhaps as soon as 2014-2015.

Earlier this week, Riverview Gardens officials proposed cuts aimed at offsetting some of the $15 million that district is paying for transfers.

The financial situation is most dire at Normandy. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is asking lawmakers for a $6.8 million supplementary budget request to help Normandy remain solvent through the end of the school year.

“I’ve been wrestling with this since day one. I could no longer in good conscience support a process that would not allow us – our students – to have the kind of access to education that is afforded to other districts,” said William Humphrey, president of the board, who favored the withholding of the funds. “All I’ve asked for is a fair playing field for our students.”

The decision brought applause from about 100 people at the board meeting.

Normandy officials say the tuition and transportation costs could take up as much as 30 percent of the district’s resources. The tuition cost for the school year has been projected as high as $15 million.

The job cuts at Normandy include 71 teachers, 27 support staffers and five building administrators. The cuts and the school closing are effective Dec. 20. A meeting with parents to discuss reassignment of students is Saturday.

Don Senti, executive director of Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis, said the school choice process is failing struggling schools.

“It just creates total chaos,” Senti said. “I don’t know what’s next.”