Desegregation Money May Be Hard to Give Up If Court Ends Program, 17 Districts Could Face Shortages for Programs

By Joan Little and Susan C. Thomson Of the Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 19, 1995 | Go to article overview

Desegregation Money May Be Hard to Give Up If Court Ends Program, 17 Districts Could Face Shortages for Programs


Joan Little and Susan C. Thomson Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


OVER THE LAST dozen years, the state of Missouri has written 17 St. Louis County school districts checks adding up to more than a half-billion dollars - enough to build two football stadiums of the type going up downtown.

Every day now the charges are mounting by at least $175,000 - about the cost of a new three- to four-bedroom, three-bath house in, say, the Rockwood or Valley Park School District.

The money is the districts' compensation for taking part in desegregation, adding space for black students from the city of St. Louis and educating them.

In most districts, that money now accounts for more than 10 percent of all dollars available to teach all their students and run all their schools. At the outside, it pushes 20 percent.

All 17 suburban districts have learned to live on the desegregation money. It's not their dessert but their meat and potatoes - the means to hire teachers, buy books, pay insurance and utility bills.

Not that they'd starve without it. But, they say, they'd definitely be hungrier.

In all the new talk of an end to desegregation - and the legal maneuvering to make that happen - the suburban districts sense leaner times ahead. They just hope they won't be cut off abruptly and forced into crash diets, which many say could be ruinous. Who Gets The Money

In all, the state of Missouri has poured $1.2 billion into desegregation in the St. Louis area. The biggest chunk has gone - and continues to go - to St. Louis Public Schools, where the case began.

The city-county transfer part of the plan, which emerged from years of litigation, is called voluntary. It's that only for the students, who are free to transfer or not. For the suburban districts, it was sign on or take on a long, costly court fight. So they joined, most reluctantly.

When they stopped resisting and agreed to accept city black students, they sat down together and worked out a formula for state reimbursements, later approved by the court.

The state reimburses districts that can prove they needed to expand schools to make room for their desegregation students. From 1983 through the last school year, 13 districts got a total of more than $35 million, mostly for school additions.

Another chunk of small change for the suburban districts is the half-state aid they keep for each of the 1,100 students who have transferred to city magnet schools. Similarly, St. Louis Public Schools keep half-state aid for the 13,061 students they send out.

To all receiving schools, the state also pays full state aid for each student transferring in. In the suburbs that ranges from $954 in Clayton to $1,947 in Hancock Place, but that's a fraction of what those districts spend on their students.

So for the transfer students, the state makes up differences of from $903 a student in Hancock Place to $7,750 in Clayton. And that's where the dollars add up.

Like a conscientious absentee father, the state sends all 17 districts regular monthly support checks during the school year.

The suburban districts are "very protective of their formula" and have successfully resisted any changes to it, says Tim Jones, director of Desegregation Services for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. That leads Jones to believe that the districts "are at least breaking even or getting more" than their costs to educate city students. Recalling The Early Days

Mehlville Superintendent Robert Rogers remembers his district as "reticent," one of the last in the city-county plan but not much inconvenienced by it at first.

After losing students in the late 1970s, the district had closed three elementary schools in the early 1980s. Still, it was easy enough to make room for the first outsiders.

"When we first went into the program, we were able to accommodate all of the (desegregation) students in our classrooms, and the money we received probably helped us for a while," Rogers said. …

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