Missouri education officials replace unaccredited Normandy district

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | 7:15 a.m. CDT; updated 7:49 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 20, 2014

COLUMBIA — The Missouri State Board of Education voted Tuesday to replace a struggling St. Louis County district with a new school system that will be governed by a board it appoints.

Under the plan, the Normandy School District will be dissolved at the end of June and all existing contracts will be terminated. A newly created Normandy Schools Collaborative then will begin operating July 1 within the boundaries of the old school district. The State Board of Education will name a Joint Executive Governing Board and the leader of that board.

State Education Commissioner Chris Nicatro said officials are committed to keeping good schools in Normandy. She told the State Board of Education that other governance options for the district would not work.

"We all want the district to be successful, and that means things are going to have to be done very differently than they have been done in the past," Nicastro said.

The plan follows some recommendations of a task force established by state education officials to review Normandy. Many details still need to be worked out, including who will serve on the governing board.

The Normandy district has been unaccredited since the start of 2013. Nicastro said that accreditation status could change with the new school system but that that hasn't yet been determined. It's also not clear yet what will happen to the ability for students to transfer out of Normandy.

Missouri law currently requires unaccredited school districts to pay for students who chose to transfer elsewhere. State legislators passed a measure last week that would change the 1993 student transfer law, and Gov. Jay Nixon has criticized a provision that could allow local tax dollars to pay for students to attend private schools. Normandy's school board has urged him to veto.

Normandy encompasses 24 municipalities and unincorporated areas of St. Louis County. It has about 3,000 students and has paid for roughly 1,000 students to transfer during the past school year. The financial strain prompted state government to approve extra funding to ensure the district made it through the current school year.

State education officials have been working on plans to intervene in struggling school districts after a new law took effect last year giving the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education greater powers to take action.

Normandy is the first district to go through that process, and supporters of the school system filled the conference room at a hotel in Columbia where the State Board of Education was meeting. Students, teachers, administrators, school board members and community supporters drove and came by two buses. Some carried signs, and others wore buttons.

Terry Artis, a Normandy school board member, said people should have the right to govern their schools. He said he doesn't believe a governing structure implemented by state officials is in the community's interest.

"There's been no better results, no measurable better results that have been attained through any governing structure instituted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Missouri," he said.

The state education commissioner said department officials will be working with Normandy's superintendent and administrators. Nicastro said many if not most existing staff will be offered contracts for 2014-15.

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