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Readers: consolidate local school districts

December 30, 2009 Education, STL Region, Sunday Poll 34 Comments

The poll last week was about schools.  Most of the 89 that responded felt more school districts in our region should be consolidated.

Wellston schools are merging with Normandy schools, should more school districts in the region merge?

Yes: 60 (67%)
No: 16 (18%)
Unsure/no opinion: 13 (15%)

The following is a map of the public school districts in two of the region’s 16 counties: St. Louis City & St. Louis County.

Image Source

The map only tells park of the picture.  For more we need to look at enrollment.

Wellston, that is being consolidated with Normandy, is the smallest district on the list.  The troubled St. Louis district, on the other hand, is the largest.  But we can’t conclude that small or large is uniformly bad.  Other factors, such as the overall economic demographic of the geographic area, are just as important in determining the overall success of a school district.  Districts in economically poor areas, in my view, are certain to perform below expectations regardless of the amount of money expensed per student.

The best solution may be consolidation of some and splitting up of others – with an eye toward diverse economics and neither too small or too big with respect to the total enrollment.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "34 comments" on this Article:

  1. aerosmith says:

    I'm in favor of anything that will reduce the number of school buses–not to mention the inconsiderate and just plain ignorant school bus drivers. They're *supposed* to be professional!

    Ultimately, I feel that it is up to the parents to motivate their kids to do well in school. Without even performing a lick of research, I'd say that St. Louis City schools are fine… the students are just not motivated to perform well. I'll stop now before I go on a racist tangent.

  2. Chris says:

    I'm going to do something that no one dares do: blame the students. Yes, it's the children's fault for not succeeding. I know, it makes me a monster for saying it. I know countless friends whose parents did nothing to help provide a good education to their children, but they now have successful careers and college degrees. Ultimately, and especially when people become adults, they must ask themselves, “do I want an education or not?” I think we are selling our children short when we just blame it on their parents.

    • aerosmith says:

      You and your “countless” friends [lulz] are in the minority. Kids, especially early on, do not have the concept of what it takes to be successful. They need a boost. That boost comes from their parents. Look at all of the government handouts these days. Kids see an easy way out and, without motivation, they set their sights low and shoot for government handouts or to be the local crack dealer as it's “easy money.” Again, I'm trying to avoid a racist tangent here.

      But, ****, what do I know? I wasn't nerdy enough to get “straight A's.” I was too busy chasing tail, working after school and on weekends, and pursuing activities that sometimes weren't exactly legal. I did, however, graduate in the top 10% with honors from both high school and college.

      Oh, I forgot to mention that my mother is a grade school teacher at a public school that caters to some of the poorest families in the state. She is my first hand witness that parental motivation is a key role in the success of a student; I hear about it after every parent-teacher conference date when she MIGHT see 10% of her children's parents…

      • Many may think this is about race but it is really about poverty. Those in poverty tend to have little education and are simply trying to get by. Sometimes their kids see education as the way out of poverty but often it takes an adult to push them in that direction.

        In St. Louis most of the poor happen to be black. In other parts of the country the poor may be mostly white or Latino, for example. It just depends upon where you are.

        • aerosmith says:

          “In St. Louis most of the poor happen to be black.”

          Which is why I was stating that I was trying to avoid being racist. 🙂

  3. theotherguy says:

    What year are the figures for enrollment? I have seen that SLPS has 25,000+ students, and is shrinking by the year. I may be looking at incorrect sources.

    • I'm not exactly sure on the year but they are from the same source.

      • JZ71 says:

        My initial concern, as well. With the city's dropping enrollment, in not too many years, the Rockwood system could actually be bigger.

        Agreed, poverty is a bigger predictor than race. And it's not so much about not having the time to motivate one's kid(s), it's more of a cultural thing, where getting an education simply isn't valued, so it's not a priority. Unfortunately, it fuels that viscious cycle . . .

    • bev says:

      The place to get the most up to date and accurate information on local schools is the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. http://dese.mo.gov

      For St. Louis City schools specifically: http://dese.mo.gov/planning/profile/115115.html

      • theotherguy says:

        the data is from last year. Who knows what, if any, the change was for this year. It is also difficult to discern from the website how many children are in charter schools rather than 'traditional' SLPS.

        • bev says:

          There is a separate data set for KC and STL charter schools. DESE's web site is difficult to navigate, but that's only because there is so much data for each and every Missouri district. If you're a parent, educator and data nerd (all 3 of those describe me,) it's a great time-waster.

  4. Blame the suburbanites, its their fault that urban kids aren't succeeding.


    Buried in the obituaries of former congressman and federal judge William Hungate in late June were references to a proposal he made but never pursued. After noting that the Hannibal, Mo., native filed the second article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon and later presided over the St. Louis area’s historic desegregation case as a federal judge, the obits only briefly mentioned Hungate’s whopper of an idea.

    Many viewed it as more of a threat than a promise, but because Hungate was a federal judge, it wasn’t just an idle threat—he could have done it. He wasn’t a novice, politically or judicially. Hungate was the Democratic congressman from Missouri’s 9th Congressional District from 1964 to 1977, and he served on the U.S. District Court in St. Louis from 1979 to 1992. His idea was at once revolutionary and incendiary. Its mere mention earned him death threats; for two weeks federal marshals guarded him.

    In the spring of 1982 Hungate warned school districts in the county that if they insisted on arguing in court that their schools were not, in fact, segregated and if they were ultimately found liable, the solution could include consolidating all 23 suburban school districts and the city’s school district into a single metropolitan school district, in which some white suburban students would be bused into the city.

  5. JZ71 says:

    A K-12 system with fewer than 1,000 students would seem to be too small to support a viable high school curriculum, and likely has a disproportionate number of administrators, compared to larger districts. Still, it's a local decision, and any results speak for themselves. The same dynamic and challenges are happening on the parochial side, where declining enrollments and increasing costs have resulted in the closure of more than a few parish schools. For most people, who have the option of “voting with their feet” (and they do), it's not that big of an issue. But, for the minority who don't have the resources to move to a “better” situation, the challenge, for society, is finding reasonable alternatives. Many have been tried – busing, charter schools, vouchers and consolidation, to name few big ones – but none seem to have yielded sustainable improvements and better equity. I don't claim to have THE answer, but, as a taxpayer, I'm more concerned with results than with boundaries, especially since there seems to be little correlation between the two. (It's an interesting academic discussion [pardon the pun], but one where there are many other, bigger urban challenges to solve.)

  6. anon says:

    Show of hands…how many of the readers here have school age kids? How many live in an unaccredited school district like St. Louis? I bet the number is VERY LOW. I love hearing from all the progressive urbanist types who become very conservative when it comes to their own money or their kid's educations. When they have kids old enough to attend school or they decide to buy a house, how many of them will stay in St. Louis city? They'll turn that around on you and say something like, “as soon as the city eliminates the earnings tax…” or “as soon as the city 'fixes the schools' “, I'll move into the city. FOLKS – don't count on it. You will be waiting a long time. Don't be on the sidelines, put your kids in a private school or work to fix the public schools. Or, raise 'em out in Fenton where they can be around a bunch of homogeneous middle class spoiled brats.

    • JZ71 says:

      I live in the city/unaccredited school district. I don't have kids, school-age or not. I pay taxes. Expecting results is not “conservative” or liberal. Spending even more money, on a per-pupil basis, without better results, needs to be justified, since the St. Louis system is already in the top tier. And the earnings tax goes to fund city services; our property taxes fund the school system. I'm not sure what your point is.

      • anon says:

        The point is what is your personal stake in the matter? Is this an academic discussion or are you personally vested in the issue. JZ, as a city resident, you're vested as a taxpayer and property owner. You're not as vested as someone with kids in the city schools or paying tuition to send a city kid to a private school. This blog is about urbanism and St. Louis, implicitly about the promotion of both. My point as stated in the previous comment is, to the general readership here, how committed are you to the city of St. Louis and urbanism? Given the wretched city public school system, committed enough to pay taxes here, buy a home here and enroll your kid in private school if necessary to ensure a safe and productive learning environment?

    • aerosmith says:

      There are rumors going around that if [whoever] gets 100,000 signatures, eliminating the city earnings tax here and in Kansas City might make an appearance on a statewide ballot. In fact, it might happen sooner than you think.

      I do not have/want sex trophies. They cost way too much money and they require way too much work. However, I do live and work in the City and I also pay taxes.

      • anon says:

        Uh, kids are not sex trophies. They are family. They build community. A city with no kids is a dead city with no future. And, yes, kids cost lots of money and require years of hard work. Part of being an adult is giving of yourself to make the world a better place. Raising responsible city kids makes a huge difference in making the city – and the world – a better place. Hey, I think I just made the case for why city parents *shouldn't* put their kids in public schools…

        If you have no kids/other family members living in the city, then you are less vested in the welfare of the city than someone who does.

        • 63101 says:

          Are gay people less vested in the welfare of the city than straight couples with children? Your assertion would imply that.

          In any case, someone who sends their kid to private schools has the exact same effect on the school system as someone with no child at all. That is, they pay in far more then they take out. They also have just as much a right to demand results, because stronger schools lead to stronger communities. Any homeowner certainly has a horse in this race, because I housing values in the city would be a whole lot higher if the city schools weren't in such bad shape.

          • anon says:

            I know gay people in the city who have adopted kids and are raising them in the city. I would say they are more vested in the welfare of the city than a gay couple with no kids. It's simple really. If little Johnny, son of lesbian parents, gets beat up walking in his neighborhood, it hurts little Johnny and his whole family. If the lesbian couple has no kids to worry about, their stake in the safety of their neighborhood and the health of the overall city is lessened.

        • aerosmith says:

          “Uh, kids are not sex trophies.”

          Explain. You win at sex and, as long as the pregnancy elapses according to nature's divine plan, nine months later a trophy begins life.

          “They are family. They build community. A city with no kids is a dead city with no future.”

          I have my family and am building your community. It is readily apparent that this is a dying city.

          “And, yes, kids cost lots of money and require years of hard work.”

          Exactly. **** all of that noise. I'll be a bachelor for life unless a woman really knocks my socks off; regardless, I'm not possessing any kids unless they are a straight accident. And then there's always the abortion route…

          “Part of being an adult is giving of yourself to make the world a better place.”

          I do plenty of that already…

          “Raising responsible city kids makes a huge difference in making the city – and the world – a better place.”

          Which ties into my comment from this morning…

          “Hey, I think I just made the case for why city parents *shouldn't* put their kids in public schools…”

          If I was a parent… *avoids racist tangent*

          “If you have no kids/other family members living in the city, then you are less vested in the welfare of the city than someone who does.”

          There is a street named after my mother's side of the family. I have several family members who still reside in the area.

          • anon says:

            I hope 2010 is better for you.

          • aerosmith says:

            I hope 2010 sees a stop to your assumptions.

          • anon says:

            Aero – for starters, you don't “possess” kids. At best, you get them on loan. From your comment that you'd only have kids unless they were a “straight accident”, then you obviousl know there's more to sex than having kids.

            I'd be curious to hear more about how you are building my community. Explain.

            And what does having a street named after a family member have to do with making a descendent vested in the community? There are plenty of offspring that never measure up to the family name.

    • Dave says:

      As a city resident with a newborn, my wife and I have started really looking into what schooling options we have for our child. Anon, I was schooled in West County, which puts me in your “Or, raise 'em out in Fenton where they can be around a bunch of homogeneous middle class spoiled brats” category.

      It seems to me your argument is that our kids should go to a city school for the better of “the city”. By leaving the city and enrolling our child in a county school, you'll immediately profile me as a “city hater” and “spoiled brat”. Regardless, my wife and I will choose to do what's best for our child in the end, not for us. I dislike the suburbs, in fact, I generally hate what suburbia stands for and how it's built out. I would love to stay in the city with it's walkability, close access to great cultural attractions, diversity, superior local restaurants, public transportation, etc… However, it that means my child will receive an inferior education and not grow up with the opportunities I had, then I'll stick it out in suburbia until either the schools improve to the point of being competitive with suburban schools, or until my child graduates high school.

      I agree with others that poverty and parenting are the real reasons the city schools struggle. Not that I suggest that all low-income families have non-caring parents or middle and upper class families all have caring parents, because that's far from the truth. I am saying that on average, poverty-stricken families have a less structured social environment and on average, parents that either don't care as much for their childs education or because of working multiple jobs, can't provide as much as they would want.

      You can throw money, higher salaries, a new board, clean schools, etc. at the city schools and all you'll end up with is limited success. The more families with parents willing to invest time in their kids education that put their kids into the city school system, the faster we will see it rebound, period. Personally, I'm not ready to make that decision myself at this time.

      • Excellent comment! The social aspects of poverty must be addressed by the community as a whole – regardless if you have kids or if you live in a “good” district or a “bad” one.

      • anon says:

        Dave – you are the precise demographic I am referring to in my comments. Note that I did not say anything about sending them to the public schools. Indeed, I have been defending the notion of sending them to private schools – any paying that hidden tax of private school tuition. The thrust of my comments in this thread has to do with commitment – not education. Commitment to an urban life. A city life. A city life in a city with a dysfunctional school system. The question was, how committed are you? Committed enough to pay the extra cost to raise a kid in the city to enjoy all the benefits you describe of a city life? Or not? There are tradeoffs in all decisions. One tradeoff is a good quality, free, public education, and possibly living somewhere like Fenton or O'Fallon Missouri. Lots of city parents, gay or straight, choose the city, make the commitment, and make the necessary tradeoffs to make it happen. It's all personal choice. We make our own choices for our own reasons. The bottom line is that the city needs residents, it needs families, and it needs people to choose the city. the city needs to be a residency destination of choice. God knows in this region, there are plenty of competitive substitutes to pick from. Who will choose the city?

  7. MiamiStreet63139 says:

    I knew this topic would get heated and bring some debate! …….back to the topic at hand. How about leaving the districts alone that show results such as some of the south and west county districts, and merge and reorganize the districts that aren't showing results?

    Having volunteered for several years at a STL city public elementary school I know the issue is more complicated than just one problem. Debating by saying “it's the fault of the parents” or “it's the fault of the students” or “it's the fault of bad teachers” or “it's the fault of suburbanites” or “it's poverty and race” are missing the point. It's partly all of those things.

    • JZ71 says:

      Better yet, how 'bout pairing underperforming districts with districts “that show results such as some of the south and west county districts”? Just merging and reorganizing the “bad” ones won't make them better, just bigger!

  8. JoeBorough says:

    SLPS has closed schools this year numbering in the 20s. Sumner is closing off unused parts of its building. It sounds like there's a lot of free space in these schools. Why not allow parents to take classes in some of these empty classrooms? Parents could for, at least, one day a week attend school with their child.

    Kelvin Adams is already working on making schools multi-use, I think this is one other thing to consider.
    Allow community colleges and daycares to use the schools for night school. Allow community colleges to offer daytime classes. St Louis Community Colleges could essentially turn these schools into satellite campuses.

    As others have pointed out some of these families have a difficult time managing families and sometimes multiple jobs and varying shifts, but I think a program like the one above could have lasting effects, for those who'd take advantage of it.

    Enaging and motivating everyone to do what they can for our schools is important. Children Parents Teachers and citizens.

    On a related note, I wish I could find a site that ranked cities based on volunteers it'd be nice to brand St. Louis a Volunteer City, a volunteer census perhaps. These schools can use all the help they can get.

  9. tpekren says:

    Great topic steve, I think the discussion on hand should more pointedly address to what should be done with the worse performing schoold districts. Simply put, values and economics don't change over night nor does matching a poor area with a rich area really resolve those issues. Saying bigger is better then smaller or vice versa doesn't cut it either. But, as I agree with my father who happens to be a retired teacher of thirty plus years in a public school, school administrations require a certain degree of leadership, skills and willingness to confront problems instead of expelling them. Good schools tend to have good administrations that require less people rather then more people to run and tend to be more efficient in thier budgets. This creates an environment for teachers to do what they were hired for and the best possible situation to keep kids in school as long as possible. These are measurable items that provide a degree of accountablility. As far as what to do with worse performing school districts. Disbanding a small troubled district like Wellston was the best thing to do in that situation where as Charter schools over the long run will be the best thing for the St. Louis City School District in my opinion. What I would like to see is a county Charter school option for some of the bigger school districts as well as some mandatory administrative certifications if they are not in place already.

  10. tpekren says:

    The other item I would address. School boards should quit promoting policies that rely on expulsion. Sending kids packing is a cop out when it comes to running a school and keeping discipline. These kids are going to gangs, to the streets or trying to make it on convenience store jobs at best.

  11. Esley says:

    In Maryland, where I grew up, there is one school district per county. Services are the same in the richer and poorer parts of the county. No amount of juggling of the 22 remaining school districts in St. Louis County can correct the outrageous disparities that exist here, but I'm afraid St. Louisans are too selfish and parochial to admit that fact.


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