The Normandy School District will pay the tuition bills for students who've transferred away from the unaccredited district. The school board voted Wednesday night to reverse its October decision to withhold the funds.
Board members had objected to paying the nearly $1.4 million bill because the cash strapped district is already struggling to cover the cost of educating its remaining students. But withholding of the tuition had put the district at odds with state law, and in jeopardy of losing state funds.
Parents and teachers again asked the board to reconsider planned budget cuts that will result in teacher layoffs and one school closure.
Parents in the Normandy School District plan to hold a town hall meeting Monday to discuss the financial and academic problems in the struggling district.
Last week the school board voted to cut more than 100 jobs, including 70 teachers and close Bel Nor Elementary School in an effort to keep from going bankrupt over of the costs of the state-mandated transfer program. The unaccredited district must pay for more than 1,000 students to attend schools in other districts.
But the School board voted last week not to pay the tuition and transportation bills associated with those transfers.
The Normandy Schools Town Hall Organization will host a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Natural Bridge Branch of the St. Louis County Library.
The Riverview Gardens School District will offset some of the $15 million they're spending on the school transfer program with a series of budget cuts, but no layoffs so far.
District officials outlined the cuts Tuesday. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the district will save as much as $3 million by leaving teacher vacancies unfilled, slashing the professional development budget, modifying the busing contract and through other savings in technology and facilities costs.
Even with the budget cuts, the district will be more than $7 million in the red if transfer costs remain the same in the 2014-15 school year.
Teachers in the Normandy District have been told they won't avoid layoffs as that district deals with transfer costs. On Thursday, Superintendent Ty McNichols will present a staff reduction plan that could include a school closing. Normandy officials say they will run $6.8 million short before the end of this school year.
After the state Supreme Court upheld Missouri’s school transfer law, more than 2,000 students opted to transfer out of the unaccredited districts and attend better performing schools. Under the law, their home districts must cover costs.
Normandy officials say it's too soon to say whether the cost of hundreds of students transferring out of the unaccredited district will lead to major budget cuts.
Assistant Superintendent of Operations, Mick Willis, told board members Wednesday night that staffing levels, the number of buildings the district can operate and the number of services it can provide are largely driven by the number of students enrolled in the district.
"We have to pay a lot of attention to enrollment, what those numbers look like," Willis said. "And then where we should be relative to those enrollment numbers."
A final budget recommendation will be made to the board in June, after property tax revenues are determined.
Parents who attended Wednesday's board meeting were more concerned about the district's progress toward accreditation.
There are a lot of problems with Missouri's school transfer law, but no easy solutions. That's what state lawmakers heard from St. Louis area school administrators and state educators during five hours of hearings Tuesday.
The legislators are considering changes to the current law that allows students in unaccredited districts to transfer to better schools at the expense of their home district. Issues of cost were a repeated theme yesterday.
Three districts in the state are currently unaccredited: Normandy, Riverview Gardens and Kansas City. But with 11 other districts only having provisional accreditation and new state education standards, there is concern that the transfer situation could be much more widespread in the next few years.
The first tuition bill is in for Normandy students who transferred to Francis Howell.
Four hundred forty-nine transfer students began classes in Francis Howell schools on August 8th. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the total due now is just over $424,000. Francis Howell Chief Financial Officer Kevin Supple told the paper the bill was sent Tuesday via email.
Normandy officials say the invoice must be processed and approved by the school board, which could take a month or more.
Missouri education officials have suggested unaccredited districts pay tuition bills within 10 days. State officials have also said they will withhold state aid distributions if an unaccredited district falls two months behind in paying transfer tuition.
Mehlville middle and high school students will have a ride home from after-school activities, even if they've transferred in from the unaccredited Riverview Gardens School District.
The Mehlville School board approved a plan (5-2) Thursday to use district buses to haul students to north county after late activities. The $76,000 needed will come from tuition received from the unaccredited district.
Mehlville Superintendent Eric Knost says he expects at least 15 of the 215 transfer students will need the late ride each day.
Riverview Gardens is responsible for general transportation costs, but it doesn't have to cover after-school activity runs.
The Kirkwood School District prepares to receive hundreds of transfers from the Riverview Gardens schools.
Tuesday is the first day of classes. Monday night, is the final school board meeting before school begins. Officials are expected to discuss any last minute preparations for new students.
Riverview Gardens is paying tuition and transportation costs for 263 transferring students.
The State of Missouri may have to pay part of the costs for the school transfer program. The unaccredited Normandy School District will spend between 15 and 18 million dollars to send hundreds of students to Francis Howell and other, better performing districts. Missouri Education Commissioner Dr. Chris Nicastro told Fox 2 News that at that rate, Normandy will likely run out of money before the end of the school year.
"If Normandy cannot meet their obligations, then there's going to have to be some money come from somewhere," Nicastro said. "The legislature's the only body I know of that can appropriate those funds."
Dr. Nicastro says the costs could go up next year. That's when new education standards kick in across the state, which she believes will cause more districts to become unaccredited.
475 new students from the Normandy school district are attending classes some 20 miles from their school they used to attend.
The new students began boarding buses as early as 6 a.m. today. The transfers are the result of a Missouri Supreme Court ruling five weeks ago that allowed students in unaccredited districts to transfer to better performing schools.
Sheri Wilson has two daughters currently at Francis Howell Central High and tells KTRS News, "My girls are open-hearted and they don't see this as any different as any other child transferring in from any other school so they're looking forward to it."
All but one bus made it on time after going to the wrong high school. Students were taken to Francis Howell High instead of Francis Howell Central High and arrived 40 minutes late.