Thursday, August 18, 2005

School Choice and Transportation

School Choice and Transportation

Today's Post-Dispatch points out the challenges faced by local school districts by rising gasoline prices (and, presumably, diesel fuel prices too, since that's what most school buses use). They highlighted in particular the changes made by the Parkway School District, which still owns and operates its own school buses, rather than contracting out the service.

(A side comment: Why does StLouisGasPrices.com include listings for Sam's Club and Costco gas pumps? You have to have a membership to get those rates, and the membership costs money too - so they don't necessarily have the lowest rates. Plus, I avoid shopping at Sam's and Wal-Mart for well-publicized reasons.)

Anyway, apropos of this and my posting earlier this week, I noticed a VICC-funded school bus passing the corner of Wyoming and California while walking my dogs about 7:30 this morning.

The destinations: Barretts Elementary and Carman Trails Elementary in Parkway. According to Google Maps, those schools are 16.6 miles and 17.8 miles away, respectively, from Wyoming at California. That's a 33+ mile round trip, each day, on average.

These transportation costs do not factor into Parkway's own concerns, because the funds go directly from DESE to VICC and/or its contractors, never into Parkway's coffers.

Further, after the 1999 Settlement Agreement, VICC came up with attendance areas to try to reduce transportation costs. I don't think it applies to County-to-City transfers, because that would prevent students from completing the same track within the magnet school clusters; but it is a big constraint on school choice for City-to-County transfers.

According to the VICC attendance areas, African-American residents of "Area 3", a huge area bounded by Highway 40 on the north, Kingshighway (and a short stretch of Gravois) on the west, the city limits on the south, and the Mississippi on the east, can choose to attend the following St. Louis County school districts:
- Affton
- Bayless
- Hancock Place
- Kirkwood
- Mehlville (Oakville High feeder pattern only)
- Parkway (Parkway South High feeder pattern)
- Rockwood (Summit and Eureka High feeder patterns); and
- Webster Groves.

Given those choices, I'm not surprised students from my neighborhood would go to Barretts and Carman Trails, which given their location in the City of Manchester and adjacent unincorporated areas, are certainly in the Parkway South High School feeder pattern; and probably the South Middle attendance zone as well.

School choices in this system are bizarrely constrained. Thus, I would expect that - at least based on my perceptions of quality and performance - parents living in this area (which covers about 2/3rds of South City) would rank Kirkwood, Webster Groves, and Parkway (South) at about the same level; then below that, perhaps Rockwood (Summit and Eureka), Mehlville (Oakville); and in the lowest tier, Hancock Place, Affton and Bayless. If they had to put three choices on a form, they'd probably pick Kirkwood, Webster Groves, and Parkway (South). Maybe Rockwood would get on there, too - but it's so far west that it would be scary for a lot of parents, I suspect.

Although Hancock Place, Affton and Bayless are located adjacent to the city limits, they are generally considered lesser quality districts. Affton perhaps has better resources than the other two; and Bayless now has attracted a sizable Bosnian population. But, I suspect none of these three would be the top choices of African-American parents. Nevertheless, many do end up there. I don't have a good sense of how well or poorly students who transfer to these three districts do, after graduation. Are they any better off, ultimately, than if they had stayed in SLPS?

Really left out of this entire solution are North St. Louis County residents. While it is probably true that some are able to attend magnet schools using falsified City addresses, they cannot legally participate in the program, whether African-American or not. The only exception is Ritenour School District, which is allowed to send non-African-American students into the city, but does not accept African-American students from the city. According to VICC, "Families living in the Ferguson-Florissant, Hazelwood, Jennings, Maplewood-Richmond Heights, Normandy, Riverview Gardens, University City or Wellston school districts are not eligible to participate" in the magnet school transfer program. Period.

Maplewood-Richmond Heights, until the 1999 settlement, was the largest county sender of students into the magnet schools. I think at one point about 250 students came from MRH into the City, which was about 1/8 of all the students in the entire County-to-City transfer program at the time. This makes sense, given MRH's proximity to the city, several magnet schools being located practically within walking distance of the district albeit within the St. Louis City limits, and the generally poor reputation of the district. However, they did not accept African-American students, because they were already pretty integrated. Not sure how this loophole started, but it was closed by 2002 completely.

And I think when the program first started in the early 1980s, Riverview Gardens was allowed to send a few students. Even into the 1990s, Ferguson-Florissant and Hazelwood were still sending a number of students, too. I'm pretty sure Jennings, Normandy and Wellston never participated; not sure about UCity though. And of course, since they don't live in the City of St. Louis, African-Americans living in these North County districts are not eligible to transfer to (arguably) better quality St. Louis County school districts.

1 comment:

Roger Brown said...

Nowadays, one of our major problem is the gasoline price :(