Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Enrollment Loss in St. Louis Schools Compounds Problems

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Enrollment Loss in St. Louis Schools Compounds Problems

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * After several years of stable enrollment, about 1,500 students left St. Louis Public Schools between last spring and this fall, with most departing for schools in St. Louis County or other parts of the region.

Superintendent Kelvin Adams announced the unexpected enrollment drop to the Special Administrative Board on Thursday night after teachers spoke for about an hour into the microphone about financial pressures they're experiencing from years of stagnant salaries and negligible stipends.

If enrollment numbers don't rebound next year, Adams said, the district stands to lose millions of dollars in state funding, compounding budgetary problems that already have teachers financially stressed and some students without services that they need.

As students leave the district, Adams explained, the district doesn't experience a proportionate decrease in expenses. Pension obligations have risen to more than $31 million from $19 million in 2008, he said. The cost of providing employee health insurance is up. Expenses and maintenance costs don't change for the 72 buildings the district uses for schools and programs, even if 37 schools experienced double-digit losses.

"I don't know if the costs that we have to bear with the loss of students is fully understood by the community," said Richard Gaines, a member of the three-member special board.

Six elementary schools have fewer than 200 students, Adams said. Three high schools have less than 300. He did not name which ones.

"We have a real challenge about what to do around building sizes," Adams said.

In the past, parents and district residents have fought proposals to close high schools. In recent years, they successfully rallied to keep Sumner High and Cleveland Naval Junior ROTC High schools open, after Adams recommended their closure.

Adams said there must be a conversation around what is important. That conversation must include raising revenue as well as closing half-empty school buildings, Adams said.

"We have 13 high schools," Adams said. "Hazelwood has three. There's a cost factor in keeping 13 open."

About 24,700 students in preschool through 12th grade are attending city district schools this year. …

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