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Stimulus funds helped with renovation of building in Marine Villa neighborhood

Yesterday afternoon the ribbon was cut on a newly renovated property in south St. Louis. The handsome 4,932sf building at 3500 Illinois Ave was renovated with the help of federal stimulus funds.

ABOVE: Corner of Illinois Ave and Potomac St

I couldn’t check out the 2nd & 3rd floors but the first floor was nice.  The building was in very poor condition when the project started.  This was the 8th renovation project on this block where the city helped out to get the project done.

ABOVE: Rep Russ Carnahan and Ald Ken Ortmann
ABOVE: Rep Russ Carnahan (left) and Ald Ken Ortmann spoke briefly

I saw a number of the contractors and suppliers who were present.  The stimulus was about jobs and getting money flowing.  Using the money to continue to target a once run down block is a good strategy.  The house has already sold — it closed last week. This is a key difference from what we might see in other areas.  Alderman Ortmann (D-9th Ward) and Alderman Craig Schmid  of the adjacent 20th Ward both focus on owner-occupied single-family homes. So what had contained 2-3 units is now a massive single family property.

Their bias against multiple units and rentals means buildings wait for renovation until a pile of money is available to make a project work as a single house.  I question the wisdom of creating such massive single-family homes.  How will such homes do when resold? Wouldn’t more units help support local businesses?

I did like that the rear entry to the home was level — no steps at all from the new sidewalk to inside.  The bathroom on the first floor featured a small shower without a step — another good touch for the accessibility. The many residents from the Marine Villa neighborhood were pleased to see the building finally renovated.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Readers not keen on open enrollment in public schools

A majority of readers in the poll last week were not keen on the idea of open enrollment for Missouri schools (Post: State Senator pushing legislation for open enrollment in Missouri’s public schools).

Q: MO State Senator Jane Cunningham wants “open enrollment” for Missouri’s public schools. For St. Louis this would be

  1. a bad idea: 41 [41%]
  2. a good idea 35 [35%]
  3. unsure 16 [16%]
  4. a neutral idea: 6 [6%]
  5. Other answer… 3 [3%] 1) Didnt this fail with deseg?  2) Something worth exploring.  3) A good idea IF school funding was only from the state. But its not.

The last “other” response may have hit on the key — the source of funding.  But many see open enrollment as removing students from the St. Louis Public Schools.  Parents chimed in via the comments:

  • Wouldn’t such a thing help attract suburban families to city living, since their children could attend schools in the county?
  • Having open enrollment will not get the right parents involved in their children’s education.
  • The city is totally unsustainable without schools that middle class, educated people will send their kids to.
  • Any changes should only include a regionally unified district not the ability to pick and chose districts.
  • I doubt I am long for the city for the schooling reason.
  • Children are not to be used for “social experiments”.
  • My children attend a racially & economically balanced school with high academic achievement, and I live in the only neighborhood in the St. Louis area that offers the walkable, urbane lifestyle I want to have. I believe by virtue of this choice, my children will have a better understanding of the realities of the world than they would if I lived in a typical suburb.

I think the last comment is one of the best on the schools issue.  Middle-class white kids need to learn from an early age how to interact with non-white kids and those from different economic classes.  Their future is one where they will be a minority.  Those who grow up in diverse neighborhoods and attend diverse schools will be better prepared for the future.  I don’t know that open enrollment is the best solution but I know our region needs to have some serious discussions about how better educate all our children.

– Steve Patterson


State Senator pushing legislation for open enrollment in Missouri’s public schools

July 2006, Veronica OBrien talks to the press at the press conference naming Dr.
July 2006, Veronica O'Brien talks to the press after Dr. Bourisaw was made superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools.

A bill before the Missouri legislature could, if passed, change the composition of schools on the Missouri side of the St. Louis region:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri lawmakers are to debate whether parents should be allowed to pick the public school their children attend.

Supporters contend open enrollment gets parents more involved and improves academic performance. But critics argue that open enrollment can create problems with school funding and makes planning harder. Teacher and school district groups also say the benefits of open enrollment are uncertain.  (Fox 2: Mo. lawmakers propose open enrollment system to let parents choose school kids will attend)

Opponents to this idea are fighting back:

“We think that the emphasis ought to be on improving public education in local school districts rather than encouraging students to be attending other school districts,” said Missouri School Board Association spokesman Brent Ghan.

Representative Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield) sponsored the bill to allow students the choice in which school they want to go to within 30 miles of their home. She said that there are problems in Missouri’s schools that need fixing.

“Right now, in Missouri, we are looking at some real crisis situations as far as the academics and the accreditation of some of our school districts,” she said. “So, I think from that stand point, those parents are going to be looking at opportunities for their children to attend an accredited school.” (KOMU,  Open Enrollment Stirs Debate)

Jane Cunningham is a State Senator (R-7), not a State Rep. She is the sponsor of SB537:

Current Bill Summary

SB 537 – This act creates procedures for open enrollment across school district boundary lines for children in foster care and for children of parents who are employed as a firefighter, emergency medical technician, or peace officer who must live within a designated school district as part of their employment. School districts must adopt a policy and designate appropriate class sizes for purposes of open enrollment, incorporating the minimum standard of teacher-pupil ratio promulgated by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The policy may include spaces that could be filled by open enrollment. A student wishing to participate in open enrollment must declare intent by March first prior to the year in which the student would open enroll. If a receiving school has insufficient space for all students who want to enroll, it may institute an admissions process.

If a parent believes that a receiving district has unreasonably disapproved an application for admittance, he or she may request that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education review it. School districts must keep records and make them publicly available, as described in the act.

A student requiring special education services may only transfer if the receiving district verifies that it has an instructional program that is appropriate for the student and that the enrollment would not negatively affect the class size.

A student who enrolls in another district will be included in the receiving district for purposes of state school foundation aid.

The parent or guardian is responsible for transporting a child who enrolls in another school district. At the discretion of the receiving district, the parent or guardian may transport the child to a point on an existing school bus route.

The act also contains provisions for statewide assessment scores of students, intradistrict transfers, participation in school activities, and school district eligibility for small school grants.

This act is similar to HCS/HBs 807 & 690 (2007).  (Source: SB537)

I have no horse in this race other than wanting inner-city schools to remain competitive with suburban districts and for our region to do a good job of educating all our future adults. We certainly should use caution before doing anything that might undermine fragile districts.  Exploring and discussing ideas is certainly where we must begin.

The idea of open enrollment is the topic of the poll this week.  You can vote in the upper right corner.

– Steve Patterson


Readers: consolidate local school districts

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


Consolidating school districts the answer?

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