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Consolidating school districts the answer?

December 20, 2009 Education, STL Region, Sunday Poll 23 Comments

Schools in the City of St. Louis, and in much of the region, need help to improve performance and perceptions.  On December 17th the state took action to help one such district:

The Missouri Board of Education today voted to merge the Wellston School District in St. Louis County with the larger nearby Normandy School District.

The Wellston District lost state accreditation in 2003. And despite recent improvements in graduation rates, state officials say the district has continued to struggle academically and financially.

The Wellston School District will officially cease operations after the current school year ends. (source: KWMU)

Some would argue more districts, like municipalities, need consolidation.  One reason:

In the 2006 issue of “Where We Stand” published by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the St. Louis area ranked as number one for the highest number of independent school districts per 100,000 population when compared to 33 other metropolitan areas of similar size and characteristics. (source: Renewing the Region)

Others have argued districts should not be larger than a single high school.  I’d imagine there is a point where a district can be too small or too big.  The poll this week asks your opinion – should Missouri consolidate more school districts in the region? Vote in the upper right sidebar and share your views in the comments below.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "23 comments" on this Article:

  1. anon says:

    Instead of consolidating, how about breaking some up? Maybe the solution in St. Louis is to take the current Supreme Soviet, centralized system, and break it up into 4 or so smaller districts? But that wouldn't work because it would take the taxes coming from southwest city and other taxPAYING areas (where most kids attend private and parochial schools) from taxRECEIVING areas that send most of their kids to public schools.

    The question is not the consolidation or break up of school districts. The question is how to improve educational outcomes in low income and disadvantaged communities. It will be interesting to see how the kids from Wellston do in the Normandy district. Wellston and Normandy were once rivals. Will Normandy kids embrace the Wellston kids or will there be continuing tensions? Will more Normandy parents remove their kids from Normandy schools with the arrival of Wellston kids?

    How do you balance the aspirations of public education advocates with the will of parents wanting out of public schools? Many people say that once you fix the city schools, families will move back to the city. I say that is a hollow statement because, beginning today, with a low performing school system, families with choice are opting to not enroll their kids in city schools.

    Changing that will take a generation – of transition. The big question with no good answer is how do you get the SLPS off its back? And if if its down for good, why keep pumping money into it?

    • Chris says:

      Expect huge a number of fights next school year between the Normandy and Wellston factions in the hallways of the Normany High School.

    • anon says:

      If consolidation is the answer, what is the question? Streamline management? Save money? Lower overhead? Or improve educational outcomes?

  2. Jay says:

    I noticed when I paid my personal property tax bill that over 50% went to the City public schools and I got to thinking how many people pay that and still send their kids to private schools. If I had kids, I would be concerned given the current situation of the City Public Schools.

    Personally, I'd like to see the SLPS district broken up and merged into the surrounding districts. I don't know the implications, but I do know that currently a quite a bit of money is spent per pupil in the City and it isn't producing results. The answer everyone hates to hear is accountability. When the administrators and school board care about themselves, the results show. Perhaps when a district starts showing signs of failure, the state needs to step in instead of waiting for the district to be in shambles like Wellston or the SLPS.

    • anon says:

      The state did step in. The SLPS are unaccredited. There is a special advisory board in place. The elected board, if it still exists, has very little power.

      Here's some irony for you. Many state legislators love having control over the StL Police Department. I wonder how many of those same legislators would want to be in charge of the SLPS?

  3. Chris says:

    The balkanization of St. Louis County has to come to an end, and the demise of the inefficient and non-performing Wellston School District is a step in the right direction. In the Metropolitan Washington, DC area, there is one school district per COUNTY, and each major county has around 1 million inhabitants around DC. When there is only one school board for an entire county, there is much, much, much more accountability, because you only have to fire one superintendent if he or she is doing a bad job. Just look at the mess at the Northeast Fire Protection District; corrupt fools can set up their own private fiefdoms in these small tax districts and then all hell breaks loose. One county: one school district; that would be the most democratic, wouldn't it?

  4. aaronlevi says:

    i've worked for SLPS, University City School District, and now the Ritenour School district. I also did an internship with teh Cahokia School District, and student taught in Warrensburg, Mo. I definitely prefer the single highschool districts of Ritenour and U-city. Large districts like SLPS breed opportunities for corruption and excessive overhead/management.

    Wellston was obvioulsy a one high school district, but absurdly small (i believe less than 100 students in the highschool). That works in areas like Brentwood (250 student high school) where a large tax base can support a small, almost private school like, district. But in an impoverished area, a tiny district like Wellston just can't be sustained.

    and of course we must recognize that the size of the district is only one variable in a very complicated equation. Parental involvement, quality teachers, poverty issues-these things all are major factors as well.

    • Chris says:

      I think the small districts are even more prone to corruption when there aren't enough eyes looking.

  5. JZ71 says:

    I think size is much less relevant than relative wealth. Poor, urban districts continue to perform poorly around the country, and we can't seem to agree on just what is a “fair and equitable” level of state funding. In an ideal world, school districts would be crafted like legislative districts, with equal levels of wealth along with relatively equal populations, and subject to redistricting every 20 or 25 years, or so. Will this ever happen? I seriously doubt it – there's just way, way too much political and economic inertia working against it. That's why the recent interest in, and some movement toward, both charter schools and vouchers offer some intriguing possibilities . . .

    • Chris says:

      The relative wealth problem would be solved if children in Ladue, Chesterfield and Eureka were in the same school district as children in Wellston, Lemay or Hazelwood.

      • Anon says:

        And monkeys will fly out of my butt.

      • aaronlevi says:

        chicago has a single very large district covering much of the metropolitan area. they still have huge divisions amongst their schools, but instead of discrepencies between two districts, it's between the schools within a district. They have very nice, top notch, highschools in the rich neighborhoods, and then highschools more akin to stereotypical urban highschools in the impoverished, mostly housing projects, neighborhoods.

  6. martin says:

    wait so does this mean the wellston schools are closing? If so, what are their names?

    • anon says:

      Wellston High School is one of them. What's the difference?

      • martin says:

        the difference is that I tutor at one of the schools in the Wellston area and am a big supporter of what they are trying to do, and I wanted to see if they were closing it down.

        • anon says:

          Well, if you tutor in the Wellston School District, perhaps the Normandy schools can use your services? Wellston is done. Stick a fork in it.

      • aaronlevi says:

        it's actually called “Eskridge High School”, but everyone commonly refers to it as Wellston High….not sure how that all came about. the other schools in the district are: Bishop Middle, Central Elementary, and Wellston Early Childhood

  7. Cheryl says:

    I can't believe that more school district consolidation is good. My experience in growing up in a more rural area shows to me the effect of school consolidation on children who are bussed many miles to attend school and where smaller schools are abandoned.

    The St. Louis City School district has failed to see the advantage of more smaller schools to help keep neighborhoods vibrant.

    Finally, we live in an age when home schooling is now accepted as a good alternative and not just for those with a religious orientation. Many people feel that a school of one or two students is viable. Yet large school districts continue to consolidate schools as if only very large schools can meet student needs.

    The economics of leaving open old school buildings meant for a larger enrollment than is now possible should not always mean that we should close these buildings. Surely there are alternatives. For example, why not lease space for half the building to be used for a daycare?

    I realize that school district consolidation does not have to lead to consolidation of individual schools. But that seems to be what happens.

    • Angelo says:

      I think you're confusing expanding administrative boundaries with physical consolidation of individual schools. I believe the author is talking about putting a larger number of schools under individual administrations, not closing schools and putting a larger number of students inside fewer schools.

  8. Mark says:

    Just curious…Can anyone point to an urban school district in a similarly-sized city that actually performs well? In other words, is there an example that we can apply to St. Louis?

    • STLexpat says:

      Charlotte-Mecklenburg is one of the nation's largest city-county consolidated school districts (and 20th largest in the US). Its boundaries cover the full Mecklenburg County of comparable population (900,000 in 2008 but growing) to St. Louis County (990,000 in 2008 but declining). Consolidated in 1944, CMS was soon tested in the 1960's with an infamous court case and an often-studied/cited desegregation plan. Today, the system has both neighborhood and magnet schools, the former more so lacking diversity. And while the test scores are best in areas of wealth, those for minority students (note enrollement is majority-minority, with a large Hispanic population as well) have been improving and beat virtually all other “urban” (full county has a mix of urban, suburban and even rural areas) or large districts in the US. To learn more, here's a link:

  9. symptomsofvisionproblems says:

    Closing building to save on maintenance and utilities, increasing students in class rooms, laying teachers off, all because the tax base is shrinking and their 'rainy day fund' is exhausted. Is this going on in your area.



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