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PUB DEF is a non-partisan, independent political blog based in the City of St. Louis, Missouri. Our goal is to cast a critical eye on lawmakers, their policies, and those that have influence upon them, and to educate our readers about legislation and the political processes that affect our daily lives.


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Coleman Slams Herschend

By Antonio D. French

Filed Thursday, February 07, 2008 at 3:58 PM

State Senator Maida Coleman (D-St. Louis City) today voted against the reappointment of Peter Herschend of Branson to the State Board of Education. Coleman spoke against the nomination for more than 40 minutes in committee Wednesday and for nearly an hour on the Senate floor today before he was eventually confirmed by the Republican-controlled senate.

She released this statement afterwards:
“In the committee hearing yesterday, Mr. Herschend told me I should be embarrassed of my school district,” Sen. Coleman said.

“I think Mr. Herschend should be embarrassed that he has decided to play politics with the children of my district. He should be embarrassed that he callously disenfranchised the citizens of my district by turning control of the St. Louis School District over to the state.”

In March 2007, the St. Louis Public Schools lost their accreditation when the State Board of Education voted 5-1 to rescind the accreditation after concluding that the district had met only four of the state's 14 academic performance measures. Peter Herschend was serving as President of the State Board of Education when the decision to strip the school district of local control was made.

At the time the state board voted to classify the St. Louis Public Schools as unaccredited, several other school districts possessed 2006 Annual Performance Review ratings that were equal to or below the scores assigned to the St. Louis City School District.

“It makes me wonder why Mr. Herschend has taken no action to reclassify other low-performing school districts,” Sen. Coleman said. “There seems to be no apprehension by Mr. Herschend or the Board that they are disenfranchising the voters of a predominantly black city. We are still forced to pay taxes, so we have taxation without representation.”

Additionally, Sen. Coleman expressed reservations about any person serving such a lengthy term on a state board or commission. Peter Herschend has served on the State Board of Education for 16 years, and with his confirmation by the Senate today, will serve another eight years on the board.

“Is it a good idea to allow anyone to sit on what is arguably the most important board in state government for 24 years?” Sen. Coleman asked her colleagues on the Senate floor today.

“If someone were to serve the maximum amount of time in the General Assembly, they could only serve 16 years. If the citizens of Missouri think it’s a good idea to limit the terms of their elected representatives, surely the length of service of an unelected official should be limited as well, especially one who wields so much influence over our children’s education.”
Members of the Missouri Senate affirmed the reappointment of Herschend to the State Board of Education today on a voice vote.

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4 Meetings on School Closings

By Antonio D. French

Filed Wednesday, February 06, 2008 at 9:44 AM

St. Louis Public Schools has scheduled four community forums next week to hear public comments regarding the preliminary recommendations for school reconfigurations and consolidations. Here are the dates and times:
Monday, February 11 at 6 p.m.
Lexington Elementary, 5030 Lexington Ave.

Tuesday, February 12 at 6 p.m.
Wyman Elementary, 1547 S. Theresa Ave.

Wednesday, February 13 at 6 p.m.
Walbridge Elementary, 5000 Davison Ave.

Thursday, February 14 at 6 p.m.
Blow Middle, 516 Loughborough Ave.
As part of the preliminary plan, the district is considering the closing of several schools. They are:
  • Mitchell (students move to Hamilton)
  • Gundlach (students move to Ford, Lexington and Laclede)
  • Wilkinson ECC (move program to Roe)
  • Shenandoah (students move to Wyman)
  • Simmons (students move to Hickey, Cote Brilliante and Farragut)
  • Lyons (students move to Blow)
  • Mark Twain (students move to Walbridge)
  • Meramec (students move to Monroe and Froebel)
The proposal also includes reopening Carver School as a pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade school.

Public comments may also be submitted online at www.slps.org, by calling (314) 331-6100, or by writing to: Operations Division, St. Louis Public Schools, 801 N. 11th St., St. Louis, MO 63101.

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Judge: SLPS Takeover was Lawful

By Antonio D. French

Filed Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 10:42 PM

From the Missouri Board of Education:
In a ruling issued today, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan gave state education officials a clear victory involving last year’s decision to strip the St. Louis Public Schools of accredited status.

“We are gratified with today’s decision by Judge Callahan,” said Commissioner of Education D. Kent King. “This ruling affirms the State Board of Education’s decision regarding the St. Louis school district. Every one of the district’s efforts to overturn the board’s accreditation decision was rejected by the judge.”

In March of 2007, the State Board of Education declared the St. Louis Public Schools to be unaccredited, after concluding that the district had met only four of the state’s 14 academic performance measures. That decision took effect on June 15, 2007, allowing the state to remove the local board of education and replace it with an appointed, three-person special administrative board.

At a hearing in Judge Callahan’s court last October, the elected St. Louis school board sought to overturn the State Board of Education’s decision. The district claimed numerous technical, legal and constitutional reasons why the accreditation decision should be reversed.

In today’s ruling, Judge Callahan stated: “Based upon the facts presented at trial, the credibility of the witnesses presented to the Court, and the totality of the circumstances facing the State Board of Education, this Court finds that the State Board of Education’s accreditation decision was reasonable, that it was amply supported by the facts, and that it was neither arbitrary nor capricious.”

In addition, the ruling specifically upholds the authority of the special administrative board to govern the St. Louis Public Schools, in place of the elected board of education.

“This case provides clear confirmation of the state’s authority to set and enforce accreditation standards which are designed to protect the educational interests and welfare of children in every school district,” King said.

From St. Louis Public Schools:
Today Judge Richard Callahan of the Cole County Circuit Count ruled that the state legally had the right to name the Special Administrative Board (SAB) to govern the St. Louis Public Schools. In his 61-page ruling, Callahan agreed with the state on all claims.

Most notably, Callahan ruled that the Special Administrative Board assumed complete control of SLPS operations on June 15, 2007. State law allows the elected board only the powers of “auditing and public reporting.” Elected board members may continue to meet, as well as to monitor and report on district activities.

Today’s court ruling – according to SAB members – reaffirms that the appointed board governs the St. Louis Public School District. The Special Administrative Board is made up of Rick Sullivan, Melanie Adams, and Richard Gaines.

The SLPS elected board made more than a dozen claims, among them:

- The law providing for the creation of the SAB and the Transitional School District for the City of St. Louis was unconstitutional.

- The process that the State Board followed in removing the SLPS’ accreditation was unlawful.

- The appointment of Rick Sullivan, chief executive officer of the Special Administrative Board, was improper.

- The elected board retained governing authority over the SLPS, even after the district lost its accreditation.

SAB members hope that today’s ruling will answer all questions concerning governance of the district. The appointed board says it wants to put the legal issues behind and move forward with its primary mission – the education of children.

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REPLAY: Students Learn Journalism

By Antonio D. French

Filed Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 10:14 AM

I'm hoping it was overlooked because of the busy news week and not because you people only like controversy, but the least-watched video this week was Gabe's great piece on a group of local kids that spent their Saturday morning learning about hip-hop journalism.

Young Jacqueline Mack dreams of starting her own magazine (Good luck, sister. It's a tough racket.). M.K. Stallings is a young man who volunteers his time to teach young(er) people the beauty and power of words.

This is a story about young people doing good. So watch it, you cynical bastards!

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Wahby to Parent: Wasn't Slay's Fault

By Antonio D. French

Filed Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 6:00 AM


The mayor's education liaison's PR event with a group of St. Louis Public Schools students Friday got a little too real when a parent asked why recently air conditioned schools were closed and sold off by the past school board supported by Mayor Francis Slay.

Robyn Wahby told parent Yolanda Nelson that the mayor's office had nothing to do with that decision, that it was entirely the decision of the school district, a separate government entity.

Despite Wahby's assertion to a parent, the mayor's office — through Wahby — was indeed very much involved in decisions made by the school boards of 2003 through 2006, including big ones like:
  • the decision to hire a $425 per hour New York-based corporate "turn-around" firm to run the district for a year;
  • the decision to close 16 schools (mostly in north St. Louis); and
  • the decision to outsource the district's food service and maintenance.

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VIDEO: City Schools to Examine Bringing Food Services Back In-House

By Antonio D. French

Filed Friday, November 16, 2007 at 8:10 AM

At its regular meeting last night, the Special Administrative Board of St. Louis Public Schools voted to contract with the Council of Great City Schools to determine the exact cost of bring the district's food services back in-house.

Board member Richard Gaines, who has long questioned the wisdom of the 2003-2004 school board and former superintendent Bill Roberti's decision to outsource food services, said that traditionally food service has always been a source of profit for the district. The other, more important issue, he said, is nutrition.

"The other issue for us must always be nutrition," said Gaines.

A study released in August by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said St. Louis Public Schools' lunches have the worst nutritional value out of America's 22 largest school districts.

District CEO Rick Sullivan said SLPS is now working with nutritionists at BJC Hospital to better the district's food offerings.

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SLPS to Start Thinking "Long-Term"

By Antonio D. French

At its regular meeting last night, the Special Administrative Board of St. Louis Public Schools announced the creation of a new Comprehensive Planning Committee, which will begin to look at long-term planning options for the troubled school district. The committee will be headed by board member Richard Gaines.

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Deseg, Magnets and Charters

By Antonio D. French

Filed Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 6:00 AM


Of the more than 32,000 students that attend St. Louis Public Schools, only slightly more than 4,000 of them are white. Despite whites making up only 14% of the district population, two out of every five seats in some of the city's best schools — top-performing magnet schools — are reserved for white children. And because so few of their parents are choosing to send their kids to SLPS, many of those seats go unfilled, despite the fact that waiting lists of black students wanting to attend these good schools grow longer every year.

Yesterday, at a public meeting of parties in the Liddell v. The Board of Education case (the historic desegregation case which led to 15 years of court-ordered busing between city and suburban districts), teachers union president Mary Armstrong asked the parties if they would consider releasing those empty seats to black students whose families are desperate for better educational opportunities.

Armstrong said many of those families choose charter schools because they are turned away from SLPS magnets, costing the district millions of dollars every year.

In this exclusive video Armstrong mentions Mayor Francis Slay's plan to aggressively expand the number of charter schools in the city, which will put further economic strain on the district. And attorney William L. Taylor, the lead lawyer in the desegregation case, asks Armstrong her position on pay-for-performance plans for teachers.

Applications for acceptance to the following magnet schools must be received by Friday, November 16:
  • Central Visual and Performing Arts
  • Cleveland NJROTC
  • Gateway Institute of Technology
  • Kennard Classical Junior Academy
  • McKinley Classical Junior Academy
  • McKinley Classical Leadership Academy
  • Metro Academic and Classical High School
  • Soldan International Studies
Applications to all other St. Louis magnet schools must be received by Monday, December 31.

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Cunningham to Announce Hearings to Address Teacher Sexual Misconduct

By Antonio D. French

Filed Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 6:18 AM

Missouri was recently identified by the Associated Press as having the 11th highest number of K-12 educators dismissed for sexual misconduct. Just last week, a St. Louis teacher was suspended with pay pending an investigation into an allegation by a student of "inappropriate behavior."

State Rep. Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield) will be holding a press conference Wednesday to announce a schedule of investigative hearings and legislation to address the AP findings and Missouri's disproportionately high ranking.

A victim will be sharing her personal story of sexual abuse by a teacher who is still teaching in Missouri. PTA representatives will be on hand to alert parents and teachers of the importance of parent involvement and learning the "red flags" for spotting sexual abuse.

The press conference is tomorrow, Nov. 14, at 10:30 AM in the House Lounge of the state capitol.

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Slay, Sullivan Disagree Over Charters

By Antonio D. French

Filed Friday, November 09, 2007 at 9:53 AM

When Mayor Francis Slay informed St. Louis Public Schools CEO Rick Sullivan of his plan to push for a rapid expansion of charter schools in the city in a meeting last week, according to a source close to the situation, Sullivan voiced his strong objection — to the surprise of the mayor.

Sullivan, the governor-appointed leader of the district who is still in need of senate confirmation, testified just two weeks ago before the Joint Committee on Education that charter schools hurt St. Louis Public Schools financially.

"At some point you introduce so many alternatives that you reduce the revenue that it takes to run a successful school district," Sullivan was quoted as saying by the Post-Dispatch. Sullivan stopped short of asking legislators to address the issue.

But Slay is asking legislators to do something: give him the power to grant charters.

State Senator Jeff Smith sponsored legislation last session that would have given the mayor exactly that. It is very likely similar legislation will again be introduced next year.

In the meantime, Slay is wasting no time. His office is sending invitations to organizations across the country to come to St. Louis.

This is just the latest step the mayor has taken to reform public education in St. Louis. His earlier efforts have proven disastrous for the district:
In 2003, Slay backed four candidates to run for school board. With his support, the new majority outsourced the management of the district to a New York-based corporate turn-around firm. For $425-an-hour and an expenses-paid $2,400-a-month suite at the Chase Park Plaza, Bill Roberti, a man with no educational experience at all and an often palpable disdain for poor people, was made superintendent of SLPS. Roberti and his firm left town after a tumultuous 13 months with more than $5 million in their pockets and the district still in financial crisis.

In 2004, Slay appointed Veronica O'Brien to the school board. Enough said.

In 2005, the district slipped further away from accreditation due to decreasing test scores and graduation rate. Slay's school board also blew through five superintendents between 2003 and 2005, leaving state officials concerned about stability in the district.

After seeing all four of his school board candidates elected in 2003, the mayor was only able to see one (Flint Fowler) of his three candidates elected in the next election. And in 2006, Slay saw voters reject his board majority in a huge upset election.

Within days of the April election, the mayor's office began secret communications with state education officials about doing away with the school board entirely.
Read our earlier post "Who Killed St. Louis Public Schools?"

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VIDEO: Smith on Race and Education

By Gabe Bullard

Filed Monday, November 05, 2007 at 2:48 PM

Blunt 'Hopeful' of Senate Support

By Antonio D. French

Filed Thursday, September 06, 2007 at 12:36 PM


At an unrelated press conference this morning, PubDef reporter Gabe Bullard asked Governor Matt Blunt about the status of his two controversial education appointees, Rick Sullivan and Derio Gambaro. The governor said he remains hopeful that Democratic Senators Jeff Smith (Gambaro's senator) and Joan Bray (Sullivan's senator) will come around and support the men.

Previous Stories:

Advice and Consent: When and Why Not?

SLPS: Our Czar Still Reigns

LETTER: Sullivan, Gambaro Withdrawn


Will Blunt Withdraw Sullivan? Gambaro Too?

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