Missouri education board limits transfers from St. Louis County's Normandy school system


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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — The Missouri State Board of Education moved ahead Monday with policies limiting student transfers from the struggling Normandy School District in St. Louis County with an eye toward controlling costs.

Students who stayed in the Normandy School District during the most recent school year could not transfer in the future to nearby districts, and students who transferred this year would return to Normandy if they had not spent at least one semester there in the 2012-2013 school year. That affects 131 students, Missouri education officials estimate.

Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said students eligible to transfer could do that, so long as the receiving district agrees to accept a lower tuition payment. She said there has been no indication at this point that districts would not do that. She said letters will be sent to parents of students who transferred this year under a Missouri law requiring unaccredited districts pay for students who want to attend other schools.

Decisions on student transfers came as Missouri education officials were meeting to determine details for managing the Normandy school system. The State Board of Education decided last month to dissolve the Normandy School District at the end of June and replace it with the Normandy Schools Collaborative. The collaborative will be led by a Joint Executive Governing Board chosen by state education officials. Normandy filed a lawsuit in May and has sought a temporary restraining order that includes an attempt to stop the dissolution of the district.

Normandy encompasses 24 municipalities and unincorporated areas of St. Louis County and has been unaccredited since the start of 2013. Education officials say more than 930 students transferred from Normandy this year, and the financial strain prompted state government to approve extra funding to ensure the district makes it through the current academic year.

Among the issues state education officials faced Monday was how to classify the Normandy collaborative and how to handle student transfers. The state board voted Monday to classify the collaborative under the new status as state oversight district instead of as unaccredited. That decision will be reviewed annually. By not making the Normandy collaborative unaccredited like the district it is replacing, officials were able to limit student transfers.

Board President Peter Herschend said by doing nothing, Normandy would run out of money and would cease to exist.

"At that point, the State Board of Education would have no option but to disperse the students of the Normandy district to those surrounding districts," he said.

Two board members said they favored a student transfer policy allowing students who transferred this year to remain — even if they hadn't enrolled in Normandy.

Education advocacy group StudentsFirst Missouri criticized the limits on transfers.

"The state board decided to take away the guarantee of better educational opportunities for students trapped in failing schools," said Kit Crancer, who is the organization's state director.

Among the State Board of Education's other decisions was to retain Normandy's superintendent and approve a calendar encompassing 183 days for students and nearly four weeks of professional development. Named to Normandy's Joint Executive Governing Board were Charles Pearson, who is the CEO of Innovative Education Solutions and served on a state transition task force for the district; Richard Ryffel, who works for J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.; and Reginald Dickson, who is the chairman of financial investment advisory firm Buford, Dickson, Harper & Sparrow. Others could be appointed.

Normandy Superintendent Ty McNichols said he hopes the school system has a chance to implement its reformation plan.

Student transfer policies have received significant attention in Missouri this year. Lawmakers passed a bill seeking to revise the transfer law after recent decisions by the state Supreme Court have upheld its requirements, but Gov. Jay Nixon has said he will veto it. The Legislature meets in September to consider veto overrides.

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