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Multi-Million Settlement Helps St. Louis Move Toward Accreditation

The St. Louis school district plans to use $96 million it received as part of a long-running desegregation settlement to shore up its shaky finances and pay for services that will put it on the road to accreditation.

The district was stripped of its accreditation in 2007 for poor academic performance, as well as governance problems and money problems. In an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kelvin F. Adams, the superintendent of the 23,600-student school system, said that money will ease the district's debt burden:

The $96.1 million from a desegregation escrow account will clear the district of nearly $56 million in debt—making the school system solvent. Bond interest should be less, and insurance costs should go down, and the district's credit rating should improve, Adams said.

In the process, the district could regain a point on a scale the state uses to rate school districts. And that would put the district in a better position to regain accreditation, Adams said.

"We can check off finances," he said. "The district will be solvent."

The money comes as the result of a complex desegregation case that goes back to 1972, when Craton Liddell filed a lawsuit against Missouri and the St. Louis school district alleging that the schools were intentionally segregated.

St. Louis and the surrounding school districts set up a plan where black students would be able to move into some suburban districts, and white students would be able to move into the predominantly-black St. Louis districts. Currently, about 6,000 St. Louis students still take advantage of that transfer policy, and about 100 white students come into St. Louis from the surrounding suburbs. Education Week wrote about the transfer and magnet school plan in 1983 when it was just getting started.

In 1999, Missouri asked to have the case settled and to be released from federal government oversight. As a part of that agreement, the state created a $180 million fund that could be used for buying land and building schools. But St. Louis, facing dwindling enrollment, didn't need the money for those purposes and wanted more leeway in how it was going to use the money.

Monday marked an announcement saying that all parties agreed to that the money could be spent on other programs besides school construction. The district plans to use about $56 million to pay off debt, $23 million to pay for early childhood education programs, and additional funds for principal training, busing, technology, and other programs.

"After many years of negotiations, we are pleased all parties have come to a positive solution which puts children first," said the Missouri Commissioner of Education, Chris L. Nicastro, in a statement. "Rather than continuing to hold state funds for building more unneeded school buildings, this agreement will allow St. Louis Public Schools to redirect and invest this resource into targeted educational services needed to boost student achievement and to regain accreditation."

For a look at what work still remains in St. Louis, check out a 2008 story from my colleague Lesli Maxwell, who explored the hopes that were riding on Kelvin Adams after his appointment in 2008.

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