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Missouri Takes Over Local School System, Acts to Stem Transfer Costs

The Missouri Board of Education began the unenviable task this week of overseeing Normandy public schools—the first to be directly overseen by the state—in the hopes of turning around the financially and academically troubled system.

Normandy lost its accreditation on Jan. 1, 2013 after years of poor academic performance, and in February this year the state abruptly took control of its finances.

The district is set to be dissolved by June 30, and the new school system that will replace it on July 1 will now be known as the Normandy Schools Collaborative. (The old Normandy School District is still engaged in a legal tussle with the state over legal fees.  It also filed for an injunction in the last week to stop the state takeover.)

The school system, which serves about 3,000 students, will be run by a school board appointed by state education officials, and the state will make the ultimate decisions about finances, policy, and academics, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Among its first tasks, the new board took steps Monday to stem the crushing financial burden associated with the state's transfer law, which requires unaccredited districts like Normandy to cover tuition and transportation costs for students who transfer to an accredited school district.

Under the 1993 law, about 1,000 Normandy students transferred to neighboring districts in the past year,  racking up about $1.5 million a month in tuition and transportation expenses, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The transfer costs left the school district teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

To stem the transfers and slash the associated expenses, the state waived the accreditation for the new Normandy Collaborative, making it a district under state oversight as opposed to an unaccredited district.   It also cut the amount it will pay to the receiving school districts, to $7,200 annually per student from $12,000. And it also made changes that would bar students who stayed in Normandy during the last school year from transferring in the future and require those who spent less than a year in the receiving school districts—about 131 students— to return to Normandy. 

The  Associated Press reported that the decision to restrict the transfers was met with some criticism from StudentsFirst Missouri, an education advocacy group.

"The state board decided to take away the guarantee of better educational opportunities for students trapped in failing schools," Kit Crancer, the organization's state director, told the Associated Press.

St. Louis Public Radio also reports that the decision on transfers has also left some parents confused about where their children will attend schools in September. And criticisms have also come in from the Children's Education Alliance of Missouri and the Missouri Charter Public School Association.

Missouri  Senate Bill 493 aimed to address the burdens the law had created. It would have  eliminated the requirement that unaccredited districts pay to transport students to the accredited district but it would have allowed the receiving districts to offer discounted tuition in exchange for excluding those students' test scores from accountability requirements for up to five years.

Gov. Jay Nixon said he plans to veto the bill.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that under the state's control, the new Normandy school year will increase to 183 days from 174. Next year, more instructional days will be added for a total of 194 days.

The board also rehired the Normandy Superintendent, Ty McNichols, and hired teachers, 71 of whom taught in the old Normandy school district. 

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