What becomes of the Normandy School District is in the hands of a special panel appointed by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
But a measure approved by the Missouri House this week could change all that.
The state panel — which includes a prominent business leader, an academic and a former state senator — will release a plan within a matter of weeks to remake the nearly insolvent school district.
However, an amendment to a far broader bill on student transfers could instead place Normandy officials in the driver’s seat. School district leaders — not the state-appointed panel — would be allowed to use their own reformation plan for the troubled north St. Louis County school system.
“They should have opportunity to implement their plan,” said Rep. Clem Smith, a Democrat whose district covers parts of the Normandy school district.
Smith’s amendment was added at the last minute Thursday as the House approved a plan for overhauling the state’s student transfer law.
The law, upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court ruling last summer, has allowed more than 2,200 children to transfer from the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts into higher performing schools in the St. Louis region. The law requires the home districts to cover tuition and transportation expenses. Those $15 million or so in expenses are drawing down fund balances in both Normandy and Riverview Gardens.
The situation has led the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve a more rigorous approach to confronting failing school districts.
Normandy is poised to be the first district in the state to be reconstituted under that new plan — which calls for an appointed panel to lead the transition process.
Smith’s amendment is intended to slow down the education department’s involvement.
“They kind of do their own thing over there,” he said.
The broader bill provides some financial relief to unaccredited districts.
Members of the House have adorned the bill — which has already cleared the Senate — with 16 amendments. Some would deal with the responsibilities of the Missouri education department, which some members of both chambers are openly disenchanted with.
Smith’s provision would limit the state Board of Education to choosing among three governing structures for Normandy. It also removes the option of merging the Normandy district with one or more current school systems — a possibility that members of the task force have said they do not support anyway.
The panel includes Maxine Clark, founder of Build-A-Bear; Wayne Goode, a former long-time state senator; and Carole Basile, dean of the College of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“It would unaccredit any district it would merge with,” said Basile, chairman of the task force.
The 10-member committee is charged with developing a transition plan for the unaccredited school system that could take effect as early as July 1.
“It looks like this amendment limits that and its potential,” said Gary Cunningham, another member of the task force. “It seems to limit the state board’s ability to have the kind of new government that people have in mind.”
That potential governing structure could be a board comprising elected and appointed members.
“I sure hope there is a lot more discussion on this point and whether this really gives the district and the parents and students the kind of thing that needs to be done,” Cunningham said.
The House version of the school transfer bill must now be reconciled with the Senate version. Whether the final version retains the amendment granting more local control for Normandy is unclear.
“I want this to be very focused and narrow as far as the transfer situation is concerned,” said Sen. David Pearce, Senate Education Committee chairman.
Alex Stuckey of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.