School transfer situation shakes out in St. Louis

Friday, August 2, 2013 | 8:59 a.m. CDT; updated 10:18 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 2, 2013

ST. LOUIS — The process of placing students transferring from two unaccredited St. Louis County school districts was slowed Friday by a computer crash.

The glitch happened Friday morning as staff members at the Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis worked to place students in the districts of their choice, said Don Senti, executive director of Cooperating School Districts. The process could be slowed by a few hours.

A combined 2,589 students from the Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts are transferring. Thursday was the application deadline.

A recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling allows for the transfer from the unaccredited districts.

The ruling required such districts to designate one in the same or adjoining county to send students who want to transfer. The unaccredited district must pay transportation costs and tuition to those districts. Students transferring to other districts must pay for their own transportation.

Normandy will pay to bus 453 students to the Francis Howell School District in neighboring St. Charles County, even though the schools are at least a 30-minute bus ride away — longer at rush hour.

Riverview Gardens is busing a combined 393 students to Kirkwood and Mehlville districts. Mehlville, in south St. Louis County, is more than 20 miles away. Because Mehlville didn't have room for all of the transfers, Riverview Gardens made Kirkwood its second choice.

The transfer program has stirred concerns that some say are racially tinged. Both unaccredited districts are largely made up of black students, and there has been some opposition in the mostly white districts they chose for transfer by parents who have expressed concerns that it will create overcrowding and add to disciplinary problems.

Officials in the financially struggling Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts worry the program will bankrupt them and create a vicious cycle that will keep them from improving.

According to data from the Cooperating School Districts, an umbrella organization coordinating the transfer process, Normandy is expected to pay about $14 million in tuition and transfer costs for the coming school year; Riverview Gardens is expected to pay nearly $17 million. The unaccredited districts also receive less state funding since their student populations will decline.

At court hearings last year, attorneys representing Clayton and St. Louis schools argued that it would be impossible to comply with the transfer program. St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge David Lee Vincent III agreed, but the state's high court reversed Vincent's decision in June.

St. Louis city schools are not part of the transfer program because the district became provisionally accredited last fall after years of being unaccredited.

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