PINE LAWN • One week after a visit from state education officials, Normandy Superintendent Ty McNichols stood before a crowd of about 300 parents and taxpayers Saturday and urged them to take action to save the Normandy schools.
The crowd had heard for months that the Normandy district could go bankrupt this spring, the result of mounting tuition and transportation bills tied to Missouri’s school transfer statute. And recently, some of them heard state educators outline proposals being weighed in the state’s effort to transform unaccredited districts. Among them: disbanding the districts and placing schools under direct state or nonprofit control.
“Time is not on our side,” McNichols said inside the packed auditorium of Barack Obama Elementary School. “We have to act now.”
Normandy’s crisis has had a galvanizing effect within the 24 municipalities that make up this north St. Louis County school district, which received the state’s worst rating — unaccredited — in early 2013. More than half a dozen mayors and police chiefs joined the parents. Retired teachers and civic activists from outside the district also listened as McNichols summarized a 56-page plan he intends to submit to the state.
District leaders want Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro to consider the reformation plan as she develops the long-term strategy for Normandy. It involves making academics more applicable to children from low-income backgrounds, as well as lengthening the school day and working more extensively with corporations and universities. Since becoming superintendent in July, McNichols has worked to strengthen literacy, as well as science, technology, engineering and math education.
McNichols said he needs community support to succeed in Jefferson City. The crowd was given hundreds of postcards addressed to key Missouri lawmakers, asking for a fix to the transfer statute so compliance wouldn’t bankrupt struggling districts. It also asks for $5 million to help the district stay afloat through the end of the school year. Potentially, 3,000 children could be assigned to other area schools this spring.
“Folks in Jefferson City are about to decide what’s going to happen to the children of this district,” said Chris Krehmeyer, president of Beyond Housing, a nonprofit group working on education and other issues within the district. “Your voice needs to be heard.”
But what was missing from the discussion was any mention of legal action to stave off insolvency, which baffled Arthelda Busch, a retired teacher.
“Is anyone getting ready to file for an injunction to stop this?” she said.
Afterward McNichols said the legal wheels are in fact turning. “We’re working on it,” he said. “I don’t want them to think that just because we haven’t done it, we’re not working on it.”
Last summer, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the transfer law, which allows children in unaccredited districts to transfer to higher performing schools at their home district’s expense.
About 1,000 children from Normandy and 1,100 children from the unaccredited Riverview Gardens School District have transferred into 22 other districts. The resulting expense is about $15 million for each district.
Normandy is heading toward insolvency more quickly due to its smaller savings account. Even so, the district had a 17 percent reserve fund balance in June, well above the state’s 3 percent requirement.
“It’s not that we’ve mismanaged money,” McNichols said. “It’s that the transfers have cost us $1.3 million a month that we weren’t able to plan for.”
Kathia Betts, mother of a Normandy High senior, said the district needs more time. “Why all of a sudden do they want to shut us down, break us up?” she said. “I don’t understand the rush.”