In the 10 years that Superintendent Kelvin Adams has led the 67 buildings, more than 4,000 employees, and 22,000 students of the Saint Louis Public School District, he has also worked through the administration of two mayors. Both mayors pushed agendas for school choice, mostly developing and attracting charter schools. Adams said in an interview with The American this week that he supports school choice. However, the choice agenda was pushed forward without a regional strategy on public education in the city.
“When you don’t develop a strategy, you are simply robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Adams said. “That can’t last forever. The belief is that it can. We are not providing the best information to our families. We are not cooperating.”
Currently SLPS is paying $40 million every year to transport its students. The city’s next two largest bus clients are KIPP and Confluence charter schools, who each pay around $5 million. The three districts have students that live right next to each other and attend schools near each other. Yet because there is no citywide strategic plan on public education, these districts are using taxpayer money to have three different buses run the exact same routes.
“It’s not a wise decision for a community that is so needy,” Adams said. “There are so many needs in this community. I could spend any additional funds on social workers, counselors and nurses. Charters could spend those dollars on many things other than gas.”
This is just one example of multiplication in public resources because our fragmented leadership has failed these students, failed the community, and failed taxpayers by not creating a citywide (let alone regional) plan. The St. Louis mayor and aldermen are not obligated under any city law to coordinate public education in the city and have no power to mandate change; the state legislature allocates funding formulas for public schools. But this doesn’t mean city leaders aren’t obligated to work cooperatively in creating a strategy that benefits all children in the city.
Yet rather than bring the charters and SLPS together to form partnerships, outside entities and even city leadership have instead divided those who are working to educate children.
“It’s a challenge for me; it will be a challenge for this new board,” Adams said. “People will try to divide us by promoting the idea that charters are againstthe district and the district is against charters.” This “new” is the newly elected Board of Education poised to take governance from the appointed body that steered the district through this fragmented, frequently hostile landscape to achieve full state accreditation.
That board may find powerful allies at the Board of Aldermen, which is in the process of forming a new committee dedicated to looking at youth services and education in the city. Adams said the aldermen could create and host that needed conversation about creating a citywide plan for public education. He said they have the power of public office to ask people to come together – and then denounce those who don’t. We agree. We are calling on the committee’s named chairwoman, Alderwoman Cara Spencer, aldermanic President Reed and the mayor to make this a priority.
We agree with the Adams that the biggest challenge facing the new school board is trying to sustain a nurturing environment for children in a climate where so many people say they support SLPS, but then push forward a completely different agenda that doesn’t reflect any kind of collaboration with the district that still teaches most of our children. On July 1, a seven-member elected school board will resume governing SLPS. We agree with the superintendent that this return to local control should include a call to the community to come together and do what’s best for our children.