- Citywide Planning Committee
Board of Education Launches Citywide Planning Process Oct 27th 2021
The concept of Citywide Plan for Education passed its third milestone since first proposed by the Board of Education of the City of St. Louis last February.
On October 21, The Board of Alderman’s Education and Youth Matters Committee, chaired by Megan Green (Ward 15), passed a measure in support of a moratorium on opening new schools in the City until the development of a plan. It was later approved overwhelmingly (24-1) by the full aldermanic board.
On October 25, the Board of Education called a special meeting to public thank the Board of Aldermen for their support and to officially launch public discussion with the introduction of a new ad hoc committee to study the issue. The committee, comprised of city and District officials and parent representatives, will grow to include additional community partners with the Board of Education taking the lead on what will be an 18-month process of community engagement.
At the crux of the issue is the proliferation of charter schools in the region amid declining population. This leaves public and charter schools fighting over students and funding. The Board was clear that this is not an issue of choice, but rather, what is right for kids.
The Board of Education asked Dr. Isaac Pollack, by virtue of his position on the St. Louis Charter Schools Collaborative (SLCS), to present information as an introduction to the relationships that currently exists between charter and public schools in our City. Dr. Isaac Pollack opened the meeting with a review of the issues and what led to the Board’s original request to come together on what they saw was a regional crisis.
“This process offers a unique perspective on the City and schools relationships,” he said. “It’s not a charter/district collaboration, nor is it a union effort. It is an intellectual and honest conversation on what children need.” He spoke of “fruitful pressurization,” describing how leaders of charters and publics come together on critical issues and coordinated efforts on Covid-19 restart, vaccinations, and transfers/withdrawals. “We have a shared set of commitments all parties agree to follow.”
He explained what a charter school is, how it is established and how it functions. He outlined the various ways in which the District collaborates with charter schools to the extent possible given on-going litigation. He then explained his appointment to the SLCS and how they work together to facilitate the close of schools or other matters having impact on education in the City.
In his remarks, Pollack described this first meeting as a show of, “Solidarity in the belief of a path forward.”
Through his charts (available online), he explained that there are 54,000 school-aged children in the city of St. Louis, down from 90,000 students (a 40% drop). 20 years ago. Less than 20 years ago, 100 percent of those students would have attended public schools. Today, there are markedly less students in the City and more than 36 charter schools serving approximately 11,000 students and 60 Saint Louis Public Schools serving 20,000.
Over the past ten years, 19 charters have opened and closed and, last school year, SLPS closed eight public schools acknowledging the loss of students to relocation (to the county or out of state) and to transfers. Public schools have been forced to compete for students amid threats to funding needed to support the programs that ensure they remain competitive.
Co-chair Sonnier explained,“ We are not here to solve or define what this committee is at this time. There is so much history and background – we are simply verbalizing the existence of a path forward. We want to distill all we learn down to a set of commitments.” She added, “The end goal is to redesign the educational plan in our City so that we might better address the root problems of poverty, not contribute to further marginalization of city students.”
According to committee co-chairs, Board members Alisha Sonnier and Antionette Cousins, the next steps include empaneling focus groups of stakeholders in designing a proposal to deliver quality education in a landscape populated with a glut of active charter and public schools.
Co-chair Cousins added, “Our (board) goal is to make this process as inclusive and as transparent as possible. We will be hosting focus groups including members of the Better Futures group that presented some sound data earlier. We will make sure meetings are posted and that the community understands what we are trying to do which is find a solution for what is best for all students living and learning in the City of St. Louis.”
The ultimate goal of the Board’s citywide plan committee, Cousins said, is to present a plan to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and to state legislators who have the power to undertake a plan for managing schools in ways that ensure the best educational opportunities for all students no matter where they choose to learn.