Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Normandy School District Sues State, Other Districts over School Transfer Law

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Normandy School District Sues State, Other Districts over School Transfer Law

Article excerpt

The Normandy School District sued the Missouri Board of Education and 20 area school districts Wednesday, challenging the validity of a school transfer law that has left the Normandy district nearly insolvent.

The petition filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court challenges the federal and state constitutionality of the law that has forced the unaccredited Normandy district to pay transportation and tuition expenses for about 1,000 children who left for higher-performing schools this year.

The state did not provide funding for the transportation costs, the lawsuit says, and therefore the transfer law is an unfunded mandate in violation of Missouri's Hancock Amendment. The Normandy school system has spent about $8 million so far this year on transfer tuition and transportation expenses, an outflow for which officials hadn't budgeted.

"To sit idly by while watching district resources dissipate to the detriment of 3,000-plus remaining students while crippling efforts to regain accreditation all due to a misguided statute that ostensibly is for the betterment of education is not an option," said William Humphrey, president of the Normandy School Board.

The suit comes one day after the Missouri Board of Education voted to lapse the district and reopen it July 1 under a different name and governance structure. The decision means all contracts and policies will be void, and an appointed board will replace the elected one. The decision was prompted by the district's poor academic performance and not its financial situation, Margie Vandeven, deputy commissioner of education, said today.

But the decision does nothing to address the district's financial situation. The new political entity the Normandy Schools Collaborative will receive local and state funding under the same structure as the current school district. And so far, state lawmakers have not done enough in the eyes of Normandy school officials to reduce the financial burden of the transfer law on their students.

"We tried to follow the letter of the law," Superintendent Ty McNichols said in a prepared statement. "We intentionally did not file the legal case earlier because we trusted that the political system understood the plight of the Normandy School District, but their inaction seems to suggest something different."

The Legislature passed a bill last week altering the school transfer law, but critics say it doesn't go far enough to prevent unaccredited districts such as Normandy and Riverview Gardens from going bankrupt. Gov. Jay Nixon is considering whether to sign or veto the bill.

The bill includes a measure that would allow transfers into non- religious private schools within district boundaries. Nixon has said he opposes public dollars going to private schools, and he told area superintendents earlier this year that he would veto such a measure. …

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