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Governing board of St. Louis Public Schools defends attempt to recover money from charter schools

Governing board of St. Louis Public Schools defends attempt to recover money from charter schools

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St. Louis Public Schools Special Administrative Board Meeting

Dr. Kelvin Adams (second from right), superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools, listens during the St. Louis Public Schools Special Administrative Board Meeting on Thursday, May 19, 2016. Photo by Cristina M. Fletes, cfletes@post-dispatch.com

The governing board of St. Louis Public Schools posted a letter on the district website Friday providing an explanation behind its legal action that has angered charter school parents across St. Louis.

The letter signed by members of the Special Administrative Board states that their attempt to keep revenue from the desegregation sales tax in district schools, rather than from allowing it to also fund charters, is not an attack on the city’s 35 charters, or independent public schools. Instead, the letter states, it is attempt to protect the will of the voters who approved the tax in 1999.

“This litigation is the result of almost 8 years of unsuccessfully working with the State to get it to live up to its promises and contractual obligations of the 1999 Desegregation Settlement Agreement,” the letter states. In 1999, voters approved a ⅔-cent sales tax to pay for programs to remedy the impact of segregation in the city school system, such as summer school, vocational education and preschool. The tax was critical piece of the settlement agreement, which the state also agreed to.

In April, the SAB joined plaintiffs involved in the settlement agreement and filed a legal motion accusing the state of violating the agreement by indirectly sending more than $42 million of desegregation money over 10 years to charter schools — money the SAB says should be returned.

Doing so would bankrupt and essentially close most of the charter schools. Charter schools educate about one third of students — about 10,500 of them — enrolled in public schools throughout the city.

“The legal action being taken has been characterized in the press and on social media as a dispute between SLPS and charter schools,” the letters says. “Simply stated, that is not the case. The District’s stance on partnerships and relationships with charter schools remains unchanged. We remain focused on creating great options for the young people of our community.”

The letter is the SAB’s first public response to the backlash that erupted after the motion was filed on April 11 in U.S. District Court. In the weeks since, charter school organizers and parents have launched campaigns on social media urging them to drop the legal proceeding. Some have questioned its timing, coming right after the charter school community helped district officials galvanize support for a successful property tax increase.

“While the timing of the public announcement of the motion being filed on the heels of the successful passage of Proposition 1 is unfortunate, the actual legal proceedings have been in motion for quite some time,” the letter from the SAB states. “Remember, Proposition 1 will benefit all public school children in St. Louis, both charter and SLPS students, and has no connection to the legal action being taken against the State.”

Earlier this week, charter school parents asked the federal judge to allow them to intervene in the litigation and join as plaintiffs. They also asked that the judge dismiss the motion to enforce the desegregation settlement agreement.

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Elisa Crouch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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