Friday, January 19, 2018

Susan Turk: Frankie Freeman Lives!

St. Louis Schools Watch

Frankie Freeman Lives!

By Susan Turk

January 18, 2018—St. Louis--Although celebrated civil right attorney Frankie Muse Freeman passed away January 12th she apparently spent the last few months of her life adding to her legacy regarding the SLPS by working with her long-time collaborator, Dr. Bill Danforth, to convene an ad hoc group to develop a transition plan that would continue to subvert the democratic aspirations of parents and teachers in the SLPS long after her death.

On Wednesday, January 17th the SAB’s task force on alternative governance for the SLPS had their final meeting. Item 8 on the meeting agenda was “Introduction by Michael Jones of a proposal.” That modest description masked a complete plan to extend The Danforth Freeman agenda for maintaining control over the board governing the SLPS for the foreseeable future. Rev. Jones, pastor of Friendly temple missionary Baptist church declined to name to participants in the ad hoc group which he described as meeting only twice. It is remarkable that they created such a detailed set of suggestions in such a brief amount of time.

It has 7 suggestions and Task Force Chair Richard Gaines arranged for them to be discussed and voted on individually. What was scheduled to be a 4 hour meeting lasted a marathon 8 hours during which task force members were provided with water but no food. Two breaks, of 10 and 15 minutes were allowed.

Jones and NAACP chairman Adolphus Pruitt played tag team throughout the meeting supporting each other’s motions. Earlier during the meeting Pruitt moved that, “This body recommend transition to an elected board with a definitive transition plan and a definitive transition process,” setting the table for what was to come. Rev. Jones seconded Pruitt’s motion. Most of the people in the room including the approximately 30 in the audience breathed a sigh of relief thinking this meant the task force was supporting the return of the elected board of education. The motion was approved on a vote of eight yeses and one abstention,

But as this publication has been attempting to communicate repeatedly over many months, there is a world of difference between supporting the transition to “an elected board” and “the elected board”. Once the St. Louis Plan as Jones called it was introduced, it became all too clear that the intention was anything but returning “the elected board” to governance.

The plan’s provisions are

The creation of a special oversight body with the power to intervene in low performing schools statewide in an effort to prevent their districts from losing accreditation.
Ensuring school boards which have previously lost accreditation are trained to understand their proper relationship with and the roles of their superintendent, administrators, principals and teachers.
Requiring that schools board wishing to terminate superintendents do so by means of a greater than 2/3 majority rather than a simple majority currently required by state law.
Allowing for more autonomy for principals concerning resources, staffing, curriculum and programming.
Requiring elected board to develop annual goals and publish a report on what they have achieved.
Extended trainings for boards whose districts have lost accreditation
Requiring that a public referendum be held in St. Louis in 2025 on the return of the elected board model AND upon the effective date of enabling legislation, assumed to be August 29, 2018, the dissolution of the existing BOE and SAB and their replacement with a seven member board three of whom would be appointed by the mayor, three of whom would be appointed y the president of the board of aldermen and one who would be appointed by the commissioner of the DESE AND for which current members of the SAB and elected board of education would be given preference.Three of whom would serve until April of 2019 when an election would be held to replace them and the other four of whom would serve until 2021 after which all 7 members would be elected.

All of these “suggestions were approved by the task force except #4 and the part of #7 which would have put a new appointed board in place to replace the SAB and eventually morph into “an” elected board. So, no recommendation was made regarding how a transition should look. The date of the referendum was changed to 2024 to coincide with the presidential election.

The SAB will make its recommendation tonight. It may or may not follow what their task force recommended last night. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.. Public comments will be allowed as usual.

Survey results revealed that 1554 participated. 664 or 464 favored a hybrid board. 608 or 43% favored an elected board and 154 or 11% favored an appointed board. Vector admitted that the difference between 46% and 43% was insignificant and meant a virtual tie.

Susan Turk on the Advisory Board Decision

St. Louis Schools Watch

SAB Approves Motion to Return THE Elected School Board to Governance!

By Susan Turk

January 18, 2019--St. Louis--At tonight's SAB meeting, Richard Gaines made a motion that the SAB recommend to DESE and possibly the legislature the  return of governance of the SLPS to the current elected board  with a transition to be developed in the next few weeks.

The motion was approved unanimously.

The SAB will study all of the data that has been collected during the past three months and determine whether to submit legislation or alternatively to develop a collaborative process for a smooth transition with the elected board that would avoid the need for legislation. The transition proposal will be made public most likely at their February 13th meeting.

We are not out of the woods yet.  There are still bills in the legislature that can harmfully impact SLPS and the politicization of the state board of education remains a concern.  Currently the state board cannot meet because they lack a quorum. The governor has alienated so many senators with his manipulation of the state board to fire former DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven that there are not enough votes in the senate to confirm his five appointees. And given the governor's own political problems over allegations he blackmailed  a woman with whom he engaged in an extramarital affair involving bondage, it may be a while before these problems with the state board are resolved.

At the very least, the SAB appears to actually want to resolve their situation regarding governing the SLPS. The path of least resistance for them apparently is to serve out their term and prepare the elected board of education to replace them.

Gaines inferred that after 10 years the SAB should have the credibility to influence the powers that be in Jefferson City to follow their recommendation, especially if they have the support of the entire community behind them.  He stated that he thought the people in the room, which included many people who have opposed them for these 10 years, would  support their recommendations for transition. 

There was cautious optimism in the room.

Thanks to everyone who made a speech, attended forums, participated in the survey, left comments, made phone calls, or sent emails and in any way contributed to this outcome.

Darnetta Clinkscale attended the meeting via speaker phone. She is home recuperating from heart surgery. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery!

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Update on SLPS Governance Debates, via St Louis Schools Watch (Susan Turk)

St. Louis Schools Watch

Steam Rolling Along—The December 5th Alternative Governance Task Force Meeting

By Susan Turk

December 18, 2017—St. Louis--Monday, December 5th, there was a "public" meeting of the special administration board's task force on alternative school governance. I put the word public in quotation marks because so far as I can see the meeting was not posted publicly. It was not posted on the district website. This reporter only found out about the meeting two and a half hours before it started via a phone call. Some task force members were surprised to see members of the public in the audience because they were unaware it was a public meeting themselves. Compliance with the sunshine law only requires that a notice be posted somewhere public 24 hours before a meeting. A bulletin board in the lobby of 801 N.11th St. serves that purpose. I’m sure someone will claim that they were in the building Sunday afternoon doing precisely that. It would be impossible to refute. The audience consisted of 13 people, most of whom were district employees.

As a reminder the task force members are
Adolphus Pruitt, chairman of the St. Louis City chapter of the NAACP
Addie Bond, in-coming president of the SLPS Parent Advisory Council
Ray Cummings, AFT Local 420
Stephanie Hudson SLU and Lindenwood Law School Professor
Charli Cooksey, SLPS Board of Education Member
Rich McClure Ferguson Commission Co-Chair and a St. Louis Chamber of Commerce member
David Merideth, SLPS Parent Advisory Council member
Rev. Michael Jones, Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church
Kaylan Holloway, SLPS teacher
Richard Gaines, SAB Member as non-voting chair.

The reason for the meeting had changed from what Chairman Richard Gaines had said would happen at the last public forum, on November 13th. At that time he said the task force members would be presented preliminary results of the survey and data collected at the public forums. That did not take place. Instead they were asked to discuss what they thought of the different forms of governance and ideas about what a transition should look like.

Superintendent Kelvin Adams gave a very brief presentation on forms of transitions. It was so brief that very little discussion about transitions followed. Dr. Adams mentioned that there were 3 types of transitions, gradual; immediate and incremental. Anne Arundel County, MD was an example of a gradual transition. It was temporarily a hybrid board which gradually became fully elected. Detroit experienced an immediate transition from an 11 member where 4 were chosen at large and 7 came from districts made up of several wards to a 7 member at large elected board in 2017. The public had had input in the decision to return to a fully elected board. Newark, New Jersey, was the example for an incremental transition The New Jersey state board of education voted to end their state takeover this year.

Most of what task force members wanted to talk about was forms of governance. In so doing a few gauntlets were thrown down. Two of the task force members were willing to ignore the experts that were brought in, questioning their testimony or wishing there had been data provided that may not exist, lawyer Stephanie Hudson and NAACP Chair Adolphus Pruitt. They both appeared to favor an elected board elected by districts rather than the at large system we currently have. Pruitt ominously alluded to legislation that would be submitted dealing with this issue.

Hudson also wanted more information about hybrid boards and Richard Gaines claimed that our board is already a hybrid board because when he served in the 1980s and members had 6 year terms, several quit before the end of their terms. In St. Louis, when a school board member vacates their seat mid-term, the mayor gets to appoint their replacement. While that technically may be defined as a hybrid board, the situation is temporary until the subsequent election for that seat. Permanent hybrid boards function quite differently and present problems as Michael Casserly, the chairman of the Council of Great City Schools pointed out on November 13th. Because people in the audience had dismissed the research of Kenneth Wong, the expert brought in to discuss appointed boards, Pruitt expressed willingness to ignore Casserly. Pruitt also noted that our police oversight board is elected by districts and seems to function well and queried that since people like neighborhood schools why would they object to neighborhood school board members?

Pruitt said a number of things which made it evident that he was uninformed about the current composition of the elected board. He insisted that it was hard for African Americans and north siders to get elected city wide and Richard Gaines supported him by saying that when he served during the 1980s there were never more than 4 African Americans on the 12 member school board. But during the last 12 years there have been several years when the majority of the elected board members have been African American and north side residents and currently 6 of the 9 municipal public officials elected city-wide are African American.

Gaines emphasized that neither the task force nor the SAB were making a choice, just a recommendation and that only the state board was making a choice. He said that all of the data and comments collected during the process would be submitted to the state board but that he expected the SAB's recommendation to have considerable weight. He also said that whatever the task force decides, if there is more than one opinion expressed the top two would be submitted to the state board, the second as a minority recommendation. Gaines also alluded to other groups who were doing research and whose reports would be sent to the state board as well. That would be the SLPS Foundation and the Regional Business Council at the very least.
Several task force members were not clear about what they were supposed to be discussing or the direction of the meeting. They asked Richard Gaines several questions to achieve clarity. Gaines wanted them to question Dr. Adams about the different types of transitions. The forums had been about different types of governance. Some wanted to question each other about what they thought about the forums presentations. Gaines directed them to consider types of transition first. Gaines, who never conveys in ten words what he can say using one hundred proceeded to provide statistics about forum participation.

262 attended the November 6 forum
141 attended the November 9 forum of which 100 had also attended November 6
101 attended the November 13 forum of which 75 had attended one of the previous forums
Gaines interpreted that to mean that between 150-200 people attended all three forums. [That could not be accurate because the third forum was only attended by 101 people. The editor]
1300 live streamed the first and left comments.
900-1000 live streamed the second and left comments.
1300 live streamed the third and left comments.
He did not know how many of the live streamers were duplicates.

Deputy Superintendent of Institutional Advancement Rachel Seward reported that there were 1551 responses to the Metroquest survey. Gaines had mentioned at the Nov. 21, SAB meeting that there were only 500 responses after the first week and that they were going to run radio ads and robo calls to try to increase participation.
Task force members then began asking questions about their specific concerns. The meeting lasted more than 3 hours. A transcript follows.
Adolphus Pruitt wanted to know if any of the districts Dr. Adams mentioned operated under consent decrees or a desegregation plan. Dr. Adams said he did not know but would get the information. Pruitt remarked that, “What is critical to me is how the desegregation piece will be governed”. He said, “I will want a closed session to discuss it.”

David Merideth noted that there were only 3 districts currently under transition. He asked for data on previous transitions, if they went quickly or slowly, whether they were successful and how they worked.

Stephanie Hudson asked if there were any way to stop a transition if it was not working. Dr. Adams did not know but said he would look into it.

Richard Gaines then made interesting remarks. He said that they wanted the recommendation the task force would make to be as comprehensive as possible, including type of transition to the number of years it should take. He said there would be a meeting with people regarding transition next week because it was a critical part of the recommendation. Who those people were and whether the task force members would meet with them was unclear because it appeared that the task force was not expected to meet again until January..

Gaines went on to say that with, “normal elections you have previous members for the people taking over management of the schools to benefit from. The people who have set the practices before and the SAB will be leaving at the same time.” That remark did not make sense if the transition was going to be from the SAB to our elected board of education, who are well versed in district practices and who would welcome a gradual smooth transition from the SAB to them. Gaines appeared to be signaling an expectation that the recommendation would not be to return the elected board to governance. Since the task force has not yet made its recommendation, it was astonishing.

Charli Cooksey noted that there had been information about transitions included in each of the presentations on elected, appointed and hybrid boards and wondered whether they could discuss that today. Gaines said they should defer discussing what a good transition should look like to their final meeting on January 11, 2018.

Pruitt asked, “Am I clear that this body can take in this information and any discovered by our own accord? This committee is not restricted to prescriptions?”

Gaines responded, “Absolutely. You may choose other people as sources you may consider. ” He added that they will list 2 more considerations tonight, one form of governance turned over to another form of governance over a district. In addition to the type of board and general characteristics of a board, there are variations of elected boards. When you recommend, it might be the same structure that existed prior to management by the SAB, at large election. But there are other forms; at large and districts, all districts. You should discuss election all at large, some elected by districts and some at large and elected all by districts.

Ray Cummings said he had several different thoughts on this. Years ago the South Side Citizens Council wanted election by districts. Now people don’t talk about district voting. More favor at large. [The South Side Citizens Council was an anti-busing group that was active during the 1980s and 1990s. Over the course of several elections they succeeded in getting 5 of their members elected to the school board in order to resist federal desegregation of the SLPS. Civic Progress pushed back in 1993 and ran slates of candidates in two elections, who supported desegregation stopping the take over of the school board by the SSCC. The editor] Cummings continued, “A couple of the presenters said boards elected by districts are more fragmented than boards elected at large. We don’t have a problem with at large elections.”

Rich McClure asked Charli Cooksey to describe running at large and whether she thought running by districts was appropriate.

Cooksey responded by saying that, “My election process got out to as many wards as possible and listened to residents and shared my vision. I made sure I represented the interests of the city as a whole because there is tension if you only represent districts affected by racial demographics.” She cautioned that candidates of color might not be able to compete in all districts.

A question was asked of Ray Cummings about the South City White Council. What does “white” mean and does it raise barriers to working together?

Ray replied that, “At that time the demographics of voters were quite different ad it was difficult to elect African Americans. Since then the demographics are closer to 50-50. I don’t think African Americans will have a problem winning seats. Right now the board is similar to the population of the city.”

Gaines interjected that, “I was elected in 1983 as the 4th African American on the board. There had never been more than 3 African Americans on the board. To my knowledge, there has never been a majority of African Americans on the board. The SAB is 2/3 African American. There were several White Citizens’ council people on the board back then. They were very conservative members. Then, the only way north city would get parity would be election by districts. I never favored districts.”

Adolphus Pruitt mentioned that there is currently litigation concerning the Ferguson Florissant school board to elect members by districts. Case law backs it up. Kansas City is elected by districts and fractions haven’t occurred. At large election wouldn’t stop members from favoring their own neighborhoods. The clamor for neighborhood schools is interesting but neighborhood school board members should not exist? The board of aldermen is elected by ward and the police civilian review board is chosen by districts and seems to operate well.

Addie Bond wanted to know whether it was difficult for school board members to work together after competing against each other in at large elections?

Charli Cooksey responded that she wouldn’t say there was tension because of competition. She said there was tension for other reasons. She wanted to look at data concerning district based elections regarding competing interests such as between middle class south city elected board members and underserved areas. She wanted to know how to create a board where everyone’s concerns meshed.

Kaylen Holloway asked Pruitt who would be in charge of developing Ferguson Florissant’s districts? Pruitt said they were using The Voting Rights Act.

David Merideth remarked that Missouri state law says that all school boards should be elected. He did not realize that some were elected by districts.. Attorney John Dalton responded that it varied by jurisdiction. The state takeover affected St. Louis. There is a statute that applies only to St. Louis. [RSMo 162.1100] He said that a specific statute deals with elected board and appointed boards.

Merideth then asked, “If Kansas city is elected by districts, what is the mechanism?”

Dalton replied, “State statute.”

Pruitt said that one reason for the recommendation in Ferguson Florissant was that low income people without resources couldn’t get elected.

Ray Cummings said, “That proves my point. Ferguson Florissant is an example of where you can’t get a cross section of people elected with at large elections. We don’t have that problem now, that low income people can’t get elected in the city. We don’t have that problem.”

Pruitt asserted, “That’s a matter of opinion. Get a map and plot it out. It would be great to know where board members have lived for the last couple of decades and their socio-economic status and there’s no requirement that parents from every corner of the city be represented on the board.

Cummings retorted that he would welcome the analysis of the data Pruitt is asking for.

Charli Cooksey expressed discomfort with what they were discussing and how it ties into their larger goal. She asked if the task force members could create the agenda for their next meeting.

Gaines replied that this meeting was to discuss issues surrounding just elected, appointed and hybrid boards and if elected, would it be the same form of election prior to the SAB [ignoring that the EB exists concurrently with the SAB and continues to be elected at large currently-the editor]. “Some people may prefer a board elected by districts. We may or may not want a board elected by districts.” he said. Then he asked whether there were any other comments about elected boards.

As there were none, Gaines changed the subject to appointed boards asking, “Who does the appointing?, explaining that the SAB is not a board of education. “We are an administrative body. We are appointed by the governor, the mayor and the president of the board of aldermen. That’s one way an appointed board works. So, discussion on appointed boards, who appoints and how many members should they have? St. Louis went from 12 to 7 elected board members as a consequence of the state. [SB 781 1998, the editor] One recommendation you might want to consider is how many members and who would appoint. Any comments?”

To which Adolphus Pruitt said, “I’m not in favor of continuing an appointed board. I want some sort of transition to an elected board. State statute says we can return to an elected board at any time and also that an SAB can be reappointed.

Attorney Dalton interjected, “Yes, but an SAB can be reinstated only if there is a loss of accreditation.

Pruitt said that he brought up the elected board suit on voting rights [in Ferguson Florissant, the editor]. We lost because of state law and the need to have legal standing.

Dalton said he would prefer to discuss this in executive session.

David Merideth then stated that, “As a parent, I would be in favor of an elected board. If an appointed board continues, I don’t see mayoral or governor elections revolving around school boards so I want to be able to vote in and out school board members who affect my own children’s education.”

Kaylen Holloway wanted to know if there were term limits for appointed board members and if the governor could retract his appointees at any time.

Dalton replied that they serve a three year term but that the governor could replace his appointment at the end of the term.

Ray Cummings asked to turn the conversation to the number of board members. He said 12 were too many. The smaller the number the more effective because of group dynamics. There’s not much difference between 5 and 7 member boards. 7 member boards are no problem. You need an odd number of members. The SAB was set up with 3 members because of how quickly they could make decisions because of the stress the district was under, 3 could move more quickly like a speedboat. There is no need to change the number of elected board members, 5 or 9 wouldn’t add to efficiency.

Charli Cooksey thanked David Merideth for his perspective as a parent. She noted that there were no comments supporting appointed boards at the forums.. It was not worthwhile exploring appointed boards.

Richard Gaines then interjected that they should discuss hybrid boards. He said that, “This school system operated with a hybrid board because the mayor appointed people when someone left in the middle of their term. He asked for any thoughts on hybrid boards.

Stephanie Hudson then said that based on the presentations hybrid boards seem like a bad idea and she did not have the expertise to dispute that so she needed more information because she thought there was some merit to them, that they counterattacked weaknesses of elected boards. She also wanted to know more about how hybrid boards transitioned to elected boards. She said she was not convinced that hybrid boards are not an option.

Charli Cooksey noted that there was no evidence of effective hybrid boards.

Stephanie Hudson responded that the absence of evidence had not convinced her that they were not an option just because there was no data although she also said she liked the idea of elected boards.

Adolphus Pruitt said that he agreed 100%.

Rich McClure reminded that in the presentations staggered transitions from appointed boards to elected boards created hybrids so maybe they should discuss staggered replacements of board members.

Ray Cummings interjected that Mr. Casserly has been dealing with this stuff for over 50 years. “I clearly remember him saying that a hybrid elected and appointed board just wouldn’t work. If we have these experts, we should take what they said and process the evidence.”

Adolphus Pruitt replied that another expert challenged his [Casserly’s] data. “People said the SAB isn’t working and that’s incorrect.”

Cummings asked, “Do you or anyone else recall that a hybrid appointed and elected boards wouldn’t work?”

Richard Gaines said, “I recall him saying there was no evidence they worked.”

Hudson continued, “I need to hear more before saying that is not an option. The experts were not convincing. We need to look at facts and circumstances.”

Richard Gaines then asked that the task force discuss Senate Bill 781 especially what the law says about failure.

Attorney John Dalton said there was nothing specific but the law doesn’t go away so if SLPS lost accreditation in the future 162.1100 would remain an option in the future, meaning an SAB could be reinstated or 162.081, a law of general applicability to school districts that have lost accreditation. [162.081 allows DESE to lapse a district, that means end it and consolidate it with another district or districts or to put an SAB in charge if it loses accreditation or fails to operate for the minimum required days for a school year. The editor]

David Merideth stated that he thought when we regained full accreditation that the transitional school district would disappear. “At what point does the transitional school district lose statutory authority?”

Attorney Dalton replied that the law established the TSD in 1998 to handle instating the sales tax established by a referendum to enable to end of federal court supervision. It ended in 1999. It was reestablished in 2007 because of the loss of accreditation. DESE can’t establish an SAB if a TSD doesn’t exist. St. Louis is unique [under state law, the editor] because the TSD can be established and reestablished. The SAB can continue to exist until such time as the TSD no longer remains.”

Merideth then asked, “What causes the TSD to go out of existence? If there is no criteria to end the TSD, no sunset clause, that is a problem with the law.”

Dalton replied, “It can go at any time,”

Ray Cummings then had a question for the attorney. “Walk me through.. I’m still a little confused. There’s a TSD now.”

Dalton said, “Yes.”

Cummings continued, “I’ve got a problem. I heard you say there is a metropolitan school district and rules of engagement different for St. Louis from the rest of the state. Why are we singled out?”

Dalton replied, “I am not an expert on education. I am a corporate lawyer. I don’t believe St. Louis is singled out. It is similar to metropolitan school districts but the urban centers have governmental structures that fit their circumstances better than rural areas. St. Louis is in a class of its own but not singled out.”

Cummings said, “There is only one metropolitan district in the state.”

Pruitt then changed the subject. “My concern is I don’t know how we get there. There are different themes in the district regarding transition decisions we must make. We are gonna be turning over a district to a body dealing with charter schools. Kansas City is now 50% charter and is going into bankruptcy. That’s heading to us based on current trends. We have a desegregation case before the appeals court on funding and a couple of critical things going on managed by the SAB and we are being asked to turnover to another form that needs legislation.” [Legislation would be required only if the form of governance was not the elected board. The editor.] Pruitt continued, “I don’t know if we are elevating the discussion enough. I represent the plaintiffs on the desegregation case. I question the funding and this elected board comes before me and I never heard that they understand all the issues before the district. They missed an opportunity to express themselves, so if we transition to them, we can put things in place to bring them up to speed but that’s making gumbo. I’ve been buried in the issue longer than a lot of folks..

Richard Gaines responded, “As an SAB member, the transition piece becomes critical because of multiple legal implications. There must be a way to address those issues. Transition is important so we need information on successful transitions. How much time does a successful transition take to whomever we turn it over to, all those people need to understand now to run this school system.” [Actually, a successful school board does not, like a special administrative board, need to know how to run a school system. That is the superintendent’s job. The school board needs to know how to make policy and hire a superintendent. The editor]

Charli Cooksey said that Pruitt and Gaines brought up valid concerns but she expected this meeting to be a work session and debriefing on the three forums. The elected board is updating its transition plan. We’re revising it again. We discussed it in preparation for this meeting. I have a handout outlining it which might address some of the things you brought up. She then handed copies around the table.

Hudson asked if it were possible for us to see the transition plan. She wanted to know how the elected board is functioning now, what their vision was..

Cooksey replied that, “I would say the elected board is stronger than ever before and we have a really diverse group of folks including parents, former teachers, alumni of the district. Discussions are robust but we come to consensus. We are focusing on trainings to become more effective on governance and we’re trying to figure out a transition committee meeting.” Concerning the handout she provided, she said, “This document recommends full governance back to the elected board because of community feedback, research saying that other forms of boards aren’t better and the values and principles of democracy.” She described what the board is doing to prepare themselves to return to governance through board development and strategic planning.

Hudson then wanted to know if the board had discussed litigation, what they would do if they got power back and whether they had discussed how to operate effectively.

Cooksey replied that that was captured in their transition plan. It recommended what they would focus on. They continue to update the plan during ongoing conversation. It emphasizes trainings and they have shared it with Dr.. Adams and Mr. Gaines,

Pruitt then said, “This is irrelevant. The desegregation agreement is extremely relevant. He then questioned the timeline which has the elected board gradually adding members to the SAB and SAB members dropping off at the end of one year. He wanted to know if they were up to date on legal ramifications of the desegregation agreement and other litigation.

Cooksey told him they had requested access to a lawyer.

Gaines then said, “A decision has not been made to return the system to an elected board. Litigation is not for us to discuss. We [the SAB] have suggested that members of the elected board sit with us and they could submit agenda items. Those meetings have been denied. We have not been able to do that. We thought it would be helpful for them if they were chosen to come back into power. We could not offer access to executive sessions but we attempted to work with the elected board. It has not worked. With this talk about the role of people who have been elected. I’m glad they have chosen to participate in this.

Cooksey responded to Gaines. She said there were things the elected and appointed boards could have done better. We’ve been hoping to sit down for face to face dialog. They only offered sitting in at public meetings. We wanted dialog.

Gaines countered, “That’s not correct. We have a letter and will provide it to this committee. They could not vote but they could discuss and participate along with us. We don’t know that the elected board will become the governance of this system so we are limited in what we can do with the elected board.

Pruitt added, “You made my point.” After an immediate 6 month period everybody would be voting [according to the timeline of the EB’s transition plan. The editor} He reminded of the problems with hybrid boards. He also asked why the elected board didn’t use their auditing power. “I never saw anything about an audit coming out.” [They did an audit through State AuditorTom Schweich in 2013. Pruitt does not know what the EB has been doing. The editor]

Ray Cummings said it was time to get back to discussing the transition. Last year a process was set up by the state board of education for the SAB, the elected board and the state board to discuss transition. One of the elected board members pulled a political stunt, showing up at meetings he was not invited to attend and refused to leave so the state board decided to discontinue those meetings. They were about how to transition to the elected board. The state board was asked when they would reconvene and they said, “We’ll wait until after the next school board election. That gentleman was held accountable by the voters because of the stunts. He is no longer on the elected board because of accountability. This discussion was going on at that time and there was reason to believe there was going to be movement to the elected board. Sometimes people torpedo processes. We were moving towards that process very deliberately. We were torpedoed and the citizens saw and that person paid a price at the polls.

Cooksey piped in, “The elected board did complete an audit before my time on the board.”

Rich McClure then offered general thanks for everyone’s thoughts and said, “I’ve learned transitions between government structures are difficult. My question is the challenge to transition related to decision makers. Is this statement correct? Any transition structure that has anything other than going back to the elected board and staggered terms requires legislation? So the state board has a triggering decision? We have a difficult legislature and volatile circumstances as of last Friday. [Because the state board ousted DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven. The editor]

Ray Cummings said he was glad you brought that up. “We have a right wing legislature. There’s no friendship between the city and the state. What happens up there is dangerous. There have been all kinds of hair brained ideas from the legislature.”

Richard Gaines clarified that if the system is returned to the elected board no legal changes are needed. If anything different is decided legislation will be needed. Gaines then suggested they talk about term length and term limits for board members.

Pruitt asked him what are you looking for?

Gaines replied that if an appointed board or a hybrid board were chosen, think about the length of terms of the people who would be serving.

Charli Cooksey suggested they vote on a governance structure so that they would have time to think about the transition process. It’s hard to do both at one meeting and the next meeting is only supposed to be 2 hours long. She suggested they might need 2 more meetings, one on governance structure and one on transition process.

Cummings said he thought there were supposed to be 2 additional meetings.

Richard Gaines said there would only be one more meeting. We didn’t think discussion would take long. You’ll get the report 3-5 days before.

Pruitt then stated, “I’m going to make sure there is movement in the state relative to education. I hope we create a process that best serves children. Let DESE figure out the legislature and how to get the legislature to act on it. DESE doesn’t want to see the district back before it for the same reasons that got it there in the first place. So we should be looking for guidance on what transition looks like and how to prevent the same situation from occurring again. I represent a population as a plaintiff and the mission of the NAACP is getting as much as possible so I don’t end up back in court. Not simply flipping a switch from the SAB to the elected board. I’m not interested in that. I agree with Charli Cooksey that we ought to be thinking forward but not predisposed to the legislature means having to flip a switch.

Richard Gaines then said, “This task force is only called together to make a recommendation regading the form of governance best suited for the SLPS. We’re talking about transition only because there needs to be some form because the SAB and staff think it needs to be thought about as part of a recommendation but you don’t have to draft a transition plan. Just discuss how you think the schools should be run. We are not asking you to be experts on transition. The SAB will look at your recommendation on how transition should look. You don’t have to develop a transition process.

Pruitt then said, “I want to make sure I understand. Our vote is focused on three different types of governance, hybrid, appointed or elected and second to recommend immediate, gradual or incremental transition.

Gaines replied. The SAB will take your recommendation and weigh it. The SAB’s recommendation may be different.

Cummings then asked, “To be clear, if we choose any other form of governance not predicated by legislation, a bill needs to get through. Not to offend but I have seen a lot of hair brained ideas that only apply to the SLPS, like dividing it up and giving some of it to Clayton, like Metro HS and Mckinley. Kansas City was stripped of its best performing schools and they were attached to suburban districts. I think we need to understand clearly what the legislature is and does. There have been bills to sell all of our school buildings. It becomes dangerous to open up something in the legislature.”

Stephanie Hudson responded, ”Not to be antagonistic I think we will need more than 2 hours to discuss. The volatility of the legislature is not lost on me but the long term interests of the children will swing on the legislature so that shouldn’t control a recommendation of a certain form. I don’t think we should be scared off or deterred to take to it to the legislature if it’s in the best interests. I don’t want to flip a switch if it’s not in the interests of the children if the goal is these children getting a better education or going back to the elected board.

Charli Cooksey then said, “I want greater clarity on our role. Are we voting and the majority decision becomes our recommendation? How will the SAB use our recommendation?

Gaines replied that a vote would be taken on form of governance and there is an option for a minority position. You probably need to decide the form of governance first and then consider transition. We can take more than 2 hours but you are not putting a transition process together. As far as transition is concerned, you can talk about it and submit ideas in writing. Everything you present will be presented as data for our decision. All data will go to the state. We will not be choosing.
There are people who are studying this that will be included too and presented to the state. All of that will be submitted with the SAB’s recommendation.

David Merideth then said, “I still can’t understand the law.. I can’t believe that’s the law, that there’s no trigger to go into a transfer of governance and no trigger to come out.”

Attorney Dalton replied, ‘There is no objective test to establish a TSD and no objective test to dissolve. It’s at the discretion of the state board.

Merideth reiterated, “There is a trigger to create a transitional district but no trigger to return. There is nothing saying what makes the SAB go away?

Dalton replied, “This system could go on indefinitely.

Pruitt agreed that DESE has discretion but, ominously, he said that there is pre-filed legislation that addresses this. It is unfounded and totally untrue that legislation won’t occur.

Cummings: “There is always legislation. The only thing I’m saying is that when some party goes to the legislature, they will hang ornaments on the bill like it was a Christmas tree and if it passes the district may not be the same.

Pruitt: “There are legislators proposing legislation, drafting legislation to address this issue. You should give them guidance.”

Gaines: “We are aware of recommendations coming from a lot of people about what this district should be after the SAB from all over the state. We as an SAB can say after 10 years what we have accomplished. The SLPS was $64 million in the red when we started [because of a drop in revenue, the governor withheld funding from all districts in 2006 in mid-year. It was not the district’s fault. The editor]
Our recommendation will be heard by a number of people. This process gives the public a say. If the final meeting needs more time on transition, we will discuss governance first. We will do both at the next and final meeting. We do have a deadline of January 11th.

Cooksey: “Can we discuss ideas for an agenda before voting? I’d like an overview of the data and analysis with some Q & A, dialogue on each presentation, discussion of the pros and cons of each governance model, the political implications of each governance structure, then a vote and finally develop themes for a public statement.”

Gaines: “Your recommendation will be considered by the chair. We will decide a form of governance and then discuss transition. The data will be shared 3-5 days before the 11th and there will be an executive summary from Vector.”

Both Cummings and Cooksey reported that they could not be there on the 11th and asked that the meeting date be rescheduled. Gaines resisted rescheduling and said they could phone into the meeting. He then adjourned the public part of the meeting for the task force to go into executive session.

[After negotiations, the January 11th meeting date was rescheduled for Wednesday, January 17. They will meet in the Foundation Room at 801 North 11th St. from noon until 4 p.m. The meeting is open to the public. The editor]


Frankly, to counter balance I believe it will be necessary to ask the general public to submit letters to the state board supporting not just the elected board but also at large election so that there is no need for legislation to change governance. Letters should be collected in a central location, perhaps the SLS Watch post office box and copies made for a record and then have them sent as a group to the state board. Gaines has said other groups are welcome to do that. An effort should be made.

I also wonder if the elected board should attempt out reach to Adolphus Pruitt He has assumptions about the elected board which are not accurate. He criticized at large elections because it would make it hard for north siders, SLPS parents and low income residents to get elected. 4 of the current 7 members are north siders and there is socio-economic diversity on the board and several SLPS parents.

Pruitt also questioned whether the elected board had any knowledge of the deseg case and it deliberations. He implied that the elected board would not be qualified to govern if they did not. Perhaps it would impress him if the board requested that they be brought up the speed by NAACP attorneys. But maybe not. Anyone who would replace the current elected board would be far less prepared to govern the district than they are but he rather arrogantly dismissed everything Charli Cooksey said in defense of the board and their MSBA training.

Please write messages of support for the SLPS elected board of education, at commissioner@dese.mo.gov. Also contact the state board at sbe@dese.mo.gov

Letters of support should emphasize not only returning the sitting elected board to governance but also electing them at large. At the December 5th meeting where the task force debriefed and discussed options, several members considered the idea of changing the way we elect the board from at large to by districts. Several of the experts mentioned that this caused fragmentation and dysfunction on boards and made it difficult to get board members to consider the needs of the district as a whole.

Or send letters addressed to the commissioner or state board to SLS Watch at P.O. Box 1983
St Louis, MO 63118 and we will mail them to DESE en masse.
The editor encourages readers to forward The Watch to anyone you think would be interested. Our city and our schools need as much public awareness and public engagement as we can muster at this time.
............................................................................................................................................................................................. Questions for the Watch? Letters to the Editor? Stories to contribute? News tips? Send them to SLS_Watch@yahoo..com


January 17, 2018, Wednesday, Task Force on Alternative Governance Final Meeting, 801 N. 11th Street, Foundation Room, 2nd floor, Noon to 4 p.m.,

January 18, 21, 2018, Thursday, Special Administrative Board meeting, 6:00 p.m., 801 N. 11th Street, room 108

February 13, 2018, Tuesday, regular monthly meeting of the Board of Education, Rosevelt H.S., 3230 Hartford St., 63118, 6:30 p.m.

Please Subscribe to the SLS Watch.
If you have never subscribed because friends have forwarded The Watch to you, please consider subscribing now. Internet newsletter mailing and management services are not free. The Watch has always concentrated its efforts on getting you the news and analysis of the SLPS that you value rather than on keeping itself in the black. But in order to pay our bills, we do need your subscription. For a dollar a month, you will get news, opinion, and analysis that you won't see elsewhere in the media. Please write a check today.
Subscribe to the St. Louis Schools Watch.
Street No.:________________________________________
I am enclosing:_____$12 for a 1-year subscription (make checks payable to Commonsense Publishing, and mail to P.O. Box 1983, St. Louis, MO 63118.)
The St. Louis Schools Watch was founded on the premises that parental and community involvement is needed for good schools to flourish, and that public participation is a cornerstone of democracy. St. Louis Schools Watch offers information and analysis that we hope contributes to a public debate over what changes are necessary to improve St. Louis public schools and what works.

Our mailing address is:
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P.O. Box 1983

St Louis, MO 63118

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Susan Turk Reports on 2nd Meeting of SAB Task Force: dismantling democracy (even more) in St Louis Public Education

St. Louis Schools Watch

Does the SAB Have to Do This?
For and Against

By Susan Turk

November 14, 2017--St. Louis--Approximately 90 people attended the second SAB Task Force meeting on appointed boards at Central VPA HS, Thursday, November 9, 2017. Since many of the audience speakers at the first Task Force meeting objected to the SAB’s decision to study alternative forms of governance, SAB Member Richard Gaines opened the meeting by stating that we want to address SB 781 and the task force review of alternative governance. The task force attorney, John Dalton from the Armstrong Teasdale law firm then spoke. He said that, “The SAB can do nothing more or nothing less than SB 781 says it can.  The SAB is just trying to complete their assignment.  They are duty bound to study alternative forms of governance.  Missouri Senate Bill 781 charges the SAB to study alternatives forms of governance”

That was Dalton’s legal opinion.

The editor/reporter of this publication wears several hats when attending these meetings. One hat is a journalist’s.  Another hat is a watchdog’s and another is an advocate’s hat.  During the audience comments section of the November 9th meeting, our watchdog hat mustered us to take off the journalist’s hat and put on the advocate’s.  The following was then said.

“There have been a lot of references to the state law that empowers the SAB. Senate Bill 781 from the 1998 legislative session became RSMo 162.1100 which all of you can read at your leisure.

Here is some of what it says.

“The chief executive officer …,(of the SAB) shall be paid in whole or in part with funds from the district, and shall have all other powers and duties of any other general superintendent of schools, ….. His salary shall be set by the state board of education.”

The SAB and state board decided not to enforce that provision.

“4. The special administrative board's powers and duties shall include:
(1) Creating an academic accountability plan, taking corrective action in underperforming schools, and seeking relief from state-mandated programs;
(2) Exploration of alternative forms of governance for the district;
(3) Authority to contract with nonprofit corporations to provide for the operation of schools;
(4) Oversight of facility planning, construction, improvement, repair, maintenance and rehabilitation;
(5) Authority to establish school site councils to facilitate site-based school management and to improve the responsiveness of the schools to the needs of the local geographic attendance region of the school;
(6) Authority to submit a proposal to district voters pursuant to section 162.666 regarding establishment of neighborhood schools.”

The SAB has not enacted all of these powers and duties. They have not contracted with nonprofit corporations to provide for the operation of schools and they have not submitted a proposal to district voters pursuant to section 162.666 regarding establishment of neighborhood schools.

And, “The state board of education may cause the termination of the transitional school district at any time upon a determination that the transitional district has accomplished the purposes for which it was established and is no longer needed. …. The state board of education shall provide notice to the governor and general assembly of the termination … and the termination … shall become effective thirty days following such determination.”

Which sounds like a transition of 30 days is allowed for.

They have cherry picked their “shalls”.  They do not have to study alternative governance.

To clarify, there are “shall” provisions in the law which the SAB has followed and “shall” provisions which the SAB has chosen not to follow.  The only thing that distinguishes some “shall” provisions from others is the SAB’s action or lack thereof. They have ignored some provisions but not others, which brings us to the conclusion that despite what Attorney Dalton said, they are not duty bound to study alternative governance.  They simply want to.

And finally, just as Dorothy learned from Glenda at the end of the Wizard of Oz, that she had the power to return to Kansas all along, the state board of education has the power to return the elected board of education to power whenever it so chooses. They can find the power by reading SB 781 aka RSMo 162.1100.12.
The editor encourages readers to forward The Watch to anyone you think would be interested. Our city and our schools need as much public awareness and public engagement as we can muster at this time.
Meeting Cancelled
When SAB Member Richard Gaines initially spoke about the alternative governance task force at the October 10tth BOE meeting, he said there would be four public meetings, the three forums on alternative forms of governance which occurred between November 6th and November 13th and a fourth public meeting on November 20th for deliberations.  Well, apparently the November 20th deliberations meeting has been cancelled At this time, it appears that any further task force meetings will not be held in public. They may meet in December to review transcripts, other comments, and other reports if available. An expected final committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, January 11th at 4 pm. Task force members are unclear about whether those meetings will be open to the public.
About Contacting The Commissioner
In the last issue of the Watch, we asked readers to contact DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven about supporting the return of the elected board of education to governance of the SLPS. It is possible that Vandeven may not be the commissioner much longer.  Governor Greitins  would like to replace her with someone of his own choosing according to the Post Dispatch,
"Greitens, who campaigned in favor of bringing more charter schools to Missouri, paid $1,596 out of his campaign fund in August to fly Atlanta charter school expert Kenneth Zeff to mid-Missouri as a possible replacement for Vandeven.
Zeff and Greitens were White House fellows in the class of 2005-2006 under former President George W. Bush."

Greitins has replaced five members of the eight member appointed state board of education since July. Until they are confirmed by the state senate in January, the governor can rescind their appointments for any reason. He has already rescinded one appointment for disagreement over his intention to replace Vandeven. The politicization of the state board of education has troubled many educators and politicians throughout the state.  A special meeting of the state board has been called for Tuesday, November 21 even though their regular meeting is scheduled for November 30th.  The meeting on the 21st is to be a closed session to deal with employment issues.

So, when you write messages of support for the SLPS elected board of education, do not send them to margie.vandeven@dese.mo.gov
Please use the generic commissioner@dese.mo.gov.
That way, no matter who sits in the commissioner's chair, they will receive the message.
The Alternative Governance Survey Is Now Available
You can now leave comments at www.slps.org/governance or take the governance survey at https://slpsgovernance.metroquest.comThe survey will be available until 11:59 pm November 28.
Questions for the Watch? Letters to the Editor? Stories to contribute? News tips? Send them to
November 28, 2017, Tuesday,  Board of Education Work Session, Carr Lane VPA Middle School, 1005 N. Jefferson at 6:30-8pm
November, 21, 2017, Tuesday, Special Administrative Board meeting, 6:00 p.m., 801 N. 11th Street, room 108
December 12, 2017, Tuesday, regular monthly meeting of the Board of Education, Lexington Elementary School, 5030 Lexington Avenue, St. Louis, 63115, 6:30 pm

Please Subscribe to the SLS Watch.
If you have never subscribed because friends have forwarded The Watch to you, please consider subscribing now. Internet newsletter mailing and management services are not free. The Watch has always concentrated its efforts on getting you the news and analysis of the SLPS that you value rather than on keeping itself in the black. But in order to pay our bills, we do need your subscription. For a dollar a month, you will get news, opinion, and analysis that you won't see elsewhere in the media. Please write a check today.
Subscribe to the St. Louis Schools Watch.
Street No.:________________________________________
I am enclosing:_____$12 for a 1-year subscription (make checks payable to Commonsense Publishing, and mail to P.O. Box 1983, St. Louis, MO 63118.)
The St. Louis Schools Watch was founded on the premises that parental and community involvement is needed for good schools to flourish, and that public participation is a cornerstone of democracy. St. Louis Schools Watch offers information and analysis that we hope contributes to a public debate over what changes are necessary to improve St. Louis public schools and what works.

Our mailing address is:
Common Sense Publishing
P.O. Box 1983
St Louis, MO 63118
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