Thursday, April 26, 2012


By Commonsense Publishing/Susan Turk (sls_watch@yahoo.com)

 St. Louis Schools Watch

April 10, 2012 Board of Education meeting
SLPS Audit Announced
By Susan Turk
St. Louis--April 25, 2012--Mark Reuther, a representative from State Auditor Tom Schweich's office announced that St. Louis Public Schools are going to be audited. Reuther and the two other auditor's office staff members who will perform the actual field work attended the meeting. A state audit is deeper than the annual financial audits of the district.   Five areas will be reviewed.   They are contracts, bidding, information reporting, compliance with district policies and MAP procedures.   He said that additional areas might be reviewed if suggestions from the public brought more concerns to light.   Field work to gather evidence for a written audit report will take several months. Unless given reason to go back further, they will only review fiscal information for the years 2011 and 2012.   The fieldwork team will meet with members of both the SAB and the BOE in closed sessions to go over the draft report before it is made public.   Any responses to findings made by any of the board members will be included in the final report.  
The evidence gathering and report writing process takes several months.   It could be complete by the fall of 2012 but it could take until early 2013.   If the findings are significant, there will be a formal follow up nine days after the release of the final report to determine if the district has implemented findings.
Board members asked Reuther questions which clarified more about how and what would be done.   Member Emile Bradford-Taylor asked if individual school budgets would be reviewed.   Reuther responded that in general only the district budget would be addressed unless a specific request from the public brought something about a particular school to their attention.   Reuther offered to talk privately to board members about specific issues.
Member Bill Haas asked if they would review whether the SAB was in compliance with the following statutory mandate.
"MRS 162.1100.6(4) No student shall be promoted to a higher grade level unless that student has a reading ability at or above one grade level below the student's grade level; except that the provisions of this subsection shall not apply to students receiving special education services pursuant to sections 162.670 to 162.999; "
Board members also asked about overlap, duplication and consistency versus inconsistency with the more than 1300 programs implemented within the district.  Board Member Chad Beffa asked Reuther whether the auditor's staff would be able to fulfill their obligations to the tax payers if they had to settle for only the information an entity they were auditing was willing to give them.   The answer was, "No."  Auditor's staff expect and get unfettered access to information.   The BOE has asked for unfettered access to district information.   The SAB has barred them from receiving it.
The BOE approached the auditor's office 17 months ago and requested an audit because the SAB would not allow them to see information necessary for the fulfillment of their statutory obligations to audit and report on the district as stipulated in MRS162.621.2.
Reuther said there would be an official announcement of the audit within a few days.  At this time, two weeks after his appearance before the board of education, the official announcement has not been made.
Board President Katherine Wessling thanked the auditor's office for assisting the BOE with their auditing powers, which they have had "great trouble" complying with.

Other BOE News from their April 10, 2012 meeting
Member Rebecca Rogers reported on the district curriculum committee.   The district's policy on promotion and retention is being rewritten for the first time since 2001.   The language on the requirement that students read no more than one level below their grade level is being addressed but it is still vague. Bill Haas interjected that the legislature mandating district retention policy seems like "overreach" and "legislative micromanagement".   He also raised the specter of the Hancock Amendment's requirement that legislative mandates be paid for.   He questioned whether the legislature had the statutory authority to require retention.   He suggested a test case and a lawsuit funded by the teachers' union might be in order.
Rogers spoke about a bill, (HB1425?) which dictates what school districts have to do to assist students who are below grade level in reading. It removes any flexibility from the decisions educators must make regarding retention decisions and specifies minute details for reporting to parents and interventions to assist the student. (The SAB has withheld microphones from BOE meetings for more than a year making it very difficult for those in the audience to hear what board members are saying.)  Board Member Donna Jones, asked about whether there were added resources for retained students. Becky Rogers stressed that spending millions of dollars on reading programs, a requirement of the legislation, "won't work".   The need is for adequate resources.   The legislation assumes teachers are not doing everything possible now.  Indeed the requirements in the bill are strategies which this reporter witnessed being applied in the SLPS years ago
On another subject, one of the accreditation standards the district needs to achieve to regain accreditation quantifies the percentage of district graduates who either attend college or find employment after high school graduation. To achieve this accreditation point, DESE performance standard 9.4 must be met. On page 27 of theMSIP Standards and Indicators Manual it states,
"9.4 Career Preparation - The percent of students demonstrating adequate preparation for postsecondary education and/or employment is high or increasing....The percent of students who complete career education programs approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and are placed in occupations relating to their training, continue their education, or are in the military services is high or increasing."
Board members discussed the feasibility of this when the number of available seats in colleges is not keeping pace with demand and jobs are scarce in the current economy.   Indeed, half of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. Chad Beffa asked, if every SLPS graduate met the requirements for college entrance or had appropriate skills to enter the work force, could they find jobs or get into a college?
Board Member David Jackson reported that parents from Peabody Elementary had complained to him that their children had been sent home from school for not having updated dental records.   One student missed a week of school because of the time needed to get a dental appointment.   J ackson requested that the superintendent be asked whether this was district policy.   He also wanted to know who was responsible for payment since, to his knowledge, there are no public subsidies for dental work.
Board Member Bill Haas reported on the request for a joint meeting with the SAB about working to oppose legislation harmful to the district.   The SAB asked the BOE to provide specific concerns for discussion.    Haas surmised the SAB did not think the BOE would be helpful.
Something New and Positive: Missouri Public School Advocates
A new statewide non-profit organization whose intent is to fortify public education in Missouri is in the formative stages. Its name is Missouri Public School Advocates.
According to their website, ( http://mopublicschooladvocates.org )   their stated mission is, "To stabilize and strengthen support for Missouri Public Schools."   Their goals are
·          To educate the general public about the importance of and achievements of the public schools.
·          To vigorously promote the state's responsibility for supporting the public schools.
·          To assist in securing adequate resources for the public schools.
·          To assist in recruiting the brightest and best students to become teachers and administrators in the public schools.
·          To assist in retaining the present teaching and administrative force employed by the public schools.
·          To be active in the process of determining the best state policies for the operation and administration of the public schools.
According to an introductory pamphlet they, "believe the Public School is the institution which has done the most to make our country great.   This institution has provided an opportunity for every child to acquire an education and to become a productive and self-supporting human being…Our state constitution places a high priority on the public schools and makes the STATE responsible for providing adequate funding for one FREE UNIVERSAL K-12 PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM which is accessible to all children."
With a board of directors made up of prominent citizens from across the state of Missouri, MPSA is getting off to a propitious start.   Its president, chief organizer and spokesman, Gary Sharpe is a former teacher, member of the Missouri House of Representatives from Hannibal and executive director of the Missouri Council of School Administrators .   He also served as the Jefferson City lobbyist for the SLPS prior to Steve Carroll.
Sharpe is passionate about reversing the trend in legislation coming out of Jefferson City, legislation that is harmful to public school teachers and districts.   As a consequence, MPSA intends to impact state political culture.   They will recruit public school supporters to run for public office and work to get them elected.   If they are successful, that will change the mindset in the legislature on more issues than just education. This is a long term project.   It may take several years to achieve.   As a former state legislator, Sharpe has the institutional knowledge and political acumen to successfully guide this effort.
Putting supporters of public education in office will take financial support.   To build funding, they are asking people who share their vision to join MPSA.   Members can join the effort for as little as $10. They intend for the organization to eventually represent thousands of Missourians.   A membership form follows.

Missouri Public School Advocates
Membership Information

*Name: __________________________ Email:__________________________________
Phone: ___________________________ Cell:___________________________________
Type of Membership:   (check appropriate box)
Supporting:              $10   1           $25   1           $50   1
Sustaining:               $100   1
Founding:                  $1000               1
Business:                  $1000   1

Checks and cash acceptable.

Make checks payable to:        Missouri Public School Advocates
Remit payment to:                    Gary Sharpe
                                                      14373 Conway Meadows Ct. E
                                                      Chesterfield, MO 63017

Questions or information:    contact Gary Sharpe at 573-230-3388

*Members names will be listed on the MPSA website unless members request anonymity.

May 03, Thursday, irregular bi-monthly SAB meeting, 6 p.m., 801 North 11th Street, room 108.
May 08, Tuesday, regular monthly Board of Education meeting, 7 p.m., Carr Lane VPA Middle School, 1004 North Jefferson. Enter from the parking lot. 
May 17, Thursday, irregular bi-monthly SAB meeting, 6 p.m., 801 North 11th Street, room 108.

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