ST. LOUIS — A vote on closing 11 public schools including Sumner High has been pushed back a month after community outcry saying the process was rushed.
The extra time will allow district leaders to visit with community members and staff from each of the schools on the proposed closure list, St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said Tuesday after recommending postponing the vote to the School Board’s Jan. 12 meeting.
The other schools Adams recommends should close by fall are Clay, Dunbar, Farragut, Ford, Hickey and Monroe elementary schools; Fanning Middle School; and Cleveland Naval Jr. ROTC and Northwest high schools. Carnahan High would convert to a middle school over the next few years.
Adams has said that closing the schools would allow more resources to be allocated to the remaining schools, including full-time physical education, music and art teachers, social workers and nurses. Of the district’s 68 schools, 19 share counselors. Forty social workers are spread out across the district.
Right now, “we cannot get enough certified staff because we have so many buildings we are trying to support,” Adams told the board at its meeting Tuesday at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy.
The city’s Board of Aldermen passed a resolution last week opposing the closure plan, and several community groups had called on the School Board to postpone its vote and solicit more input from residents.
Seven of the 11 schools on the closure list are in north St. Louis, and all of their student populations are at least 85% Black. The 2,000 students attending those schools could transfer to other schools, and staff members would likely fill vacancies at other buildings.
District leaders started the closure process in the fall of 2019 but a planned vote last spring was postponed because of the pandemic.
Board President Dorothy Rohde Collins opposed postponing the vote, saying Tuesday that complaints from city officials and community members “have not had anything actionable behind them, no commitment of funds or resources.”
“Many of these schools have been on the list before (and) nobody’s come to save them any of the other times,” she said. “Relying on the business community or politicians to save us … it’s too easy for them to walk away when they realize how hard this actually is.”
The district has 18,248 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, down from a peak of more than 115,000 in the late 1960s. At least two dozen of the district’s schools enroll fewer than 200 students, considered a threshold for viability.
St. Louis had more students than any district in the state prior to 2011. It now stands as fourth-largest, behind Springfield, North Kansas City and Rockwood. That west St. Louis County district’s 20,200 students attend 29 schools — fewer than half the number of schools in the city.
City leaders have “ignored and undervalued” the school district for decades, said board member Susan Jones, who noted a lack of public comment on SLPS consolidation from Mayor Lyda Krewson, whose son runs Kairos Academies charter school.
Regina Fowler, whom Krewson appointed to the board in August, said she thinks candidates in the 2021 mayoral race should be consulted about the closure plan. She also advised any community members with ideas for the board to “keep in mind that the solutions should include the promises we made in providing more resources to our students.”
The decision to shutter Sumner High has received the most public outcry. The school dates to 1875 and is considered the first African American high school west of the Mississippi River. Enrollment has dwindled to fewer than 200 students this year.
Board member Adam Layne said postponing the vote allows the district to “harness the new attention from the community.”
“I think we need to look less about how long they haven’t been there and appreciate the fact that they are here now,” he said.
Layne is deputy chief of staff to mayoral candidate and city treasurer Tishaura Jones, who issued a statement Friday opposing the closure of Sumner.
“This is not a call to alumni, or even just the business community, this is a call to all of us to sustain this historic symbol of post black survival,” Jones wrote in a press release. “Anything less is an affirmation St. Louis cares more about raising capital than the human capital right in our backyard.”