JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court has affirmed the state takeover of the St. Louis school system, which has struggled for years with poor finances and student test scores.
The court decision Tuesday backs the appointment of a three-member governing board that has run Missouri's largest school district since it lost accreditation in June 2007. Members of the elected school board have remained in office since then but are largely powerless.
Elected St. Louis board members had urged the Supreme Court to invalidate the Missouri Board of Education decision removing the district's accreditation. They also sought to strike down the state law allowing the transfer of powers to an appointed board if the St. Louis district lost accreditation.
The Supreme Court rejected all the arguments raised by the elected board members, essentially ending the power struggle.
Elected board member Bill Purdy, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Wednesday that the ruling "is the end of the line as a far as litigation." He said board members had received about $40,000 in donations from parents and residents to finance the lawsuit, which he said was an indication of broad community support.
"This has never been about who controls and who has power and who has authority and all that," Purdy said. "It's to improve the lot of the school district for the kids. So I've been disappointed."
An attorney for the appointed board said the Supreme Court decision means district leaders finally can move forward without fears their actions could be overturned.
"Removing the uncertainty allows the special administrative board to really focus on improving the educational product in the St. Louis public schools and to get on with the reforms that the board feels are necessary," said John Munich, a St. Louis attorney for the appointed board.
The state Board of Education voted in March 2007 — during a meeting temporarily shut down by student protesters — to strip the accreditation of the St. Louis School District for failing to meet academic and financial standards. The district met just four of the state's 14 performance standards, failing in such areas as middle and high school math and communication arts test scores, graduation rates, attendance rates and college placement.
Under state law, the governor, St. Louis mayor and alderman president each appointed one member to the "transitional" school board.
Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan denied a restraining order preventing the June 15, 2007, takeover by the appointed board. He ruled against the lawsuit by elected school board members in January and they then appealed to the Supreme Court.
Among other things, the elected board members argued that the transfer of powers to the appointed board was unconstitutional because it amounted to an after-the-fact nullification of residents' votes for them.
But the Supreme Court noted that the laws detailing the circumstances under which such a transfer could occur were in place before the board members were elected — effectively putting both voters and candidates on notice of the possibility.
The appointed board is to continue overseeing the district until June 30, 2011.