Monday, July 24, 2006

School Daze

School Daze

The recent storms and general craziness in their aftermath delayed me from blogging about the mess down at 801 N. 11th St., HQ of the St. Louis Public Schools.

(By the way, across the street from us the power is back on now, as it is at my mom's in South County and my mother-in-law's in North County. So, that's progress, right?)

I still believe Peter Downs and Donna Jones have good intentions and good ideas, even if they're not so adept at managing public relations. I even think Bill Purdy is basically a good guy, even if he does have a personal and familial direct interest in the operations of the district, as a retired principal whose wife is also a retired principal and who has children teaching in the district.

As for Veronica O'Brien - she's easy to demonize, because she is the board president, she seems like an elitist living in her big mansion on Lindell, and her kids do go to Clayton schools courtesy of deseg.

All that said, all parties to this mess have shed more heat than light in recent days. I include the mayor's 'damn shame' remarks in that vein; and even moreso, the ridiculous 'recall' campaign despite that there is no legal mechanism for recalling school board members. Even if there was, generally you cannot recall anybody within the first six months of their term.

I am dumbfounded that Mayor Slay would so publicly advocate for state takeover.

Just look at the two city institutions that are currently (and have been for decades) under state control: the Police Department and the Election Board.

Neither is particularly a model of efficiency nor responsiveness to local community needs. Both seem even more distant from the local community now that they are controlled by a Southwest Missouri-oriented Republican administration in Jefferson City.

As for the Floyd Irons situation: it's gotten ridiculous. Clearly, the man should not have been principal of Vashon. That's not his strong suit. He's a great coach, apparently. So let him be coach! Don't prevent him from doing that. But find somebody else to run the districtwide athletic operations. Seems pretty simple to me. Instead, the board decided to be punitive and vindictive, by preventing him from occupying any coaching position.

Creg Williams had some good ideas, and some bad ideas. As they say, "Pobody's Nerfect." My impression was that he was a great big-picture guy, but not necessarily the right guy for day-to-day administration of an entire district.

While it's probably true the new board majority had it out for him pretty early, he could have been less publicly confrontational. The relationship between the school board and the superintendent, like that between a city council and a city manager or even a nonprofit board and the executive director, does not have to be continually contentious. But it can easily get that way, if strong personalities are involved.

I have no doubt Diana Bourisaw and her administrative team will get the schools opened on time this August -- regardless of what the board itself does. After all, that's not the job of board members. They should not micromanage; they should set general policy.

What does concern me, however, is the projected $40 million deficit for the following fiscal year.

I don't think that gap can be closed without closing more schools.

On that note, I'm still conflicted about what to do with Cleveland High. I would love to see a public-private community-based partnership evolve out of these changes, that would eventually allow for the remodeling and reopening of that building as a school, even if the NJROTC program does not come back there.

That would require some serious financial commitments. I don't know what kind of financial resources the Cleveland alumni have; generally that was a pretty working-class area, but maybe some of the folks who have moved out of town have done well for themselves and would be willing to help out. If so, we need to know soon!

But, I wish there had been such outcry a few years back when Northside landmarks Central and DeAndreis (Ralph Bunche) schools were summarily closed and relocated to the former Southwest High complex.

I'm not sure of the condition of the DeAndreis building (a former Catholic boys' high school acquired by SLPS some years ago), but I know Central had many maintenance problems over the years despite a multimillion-dollar 1980s renovation (like Cleveland). Now, as best I can tell, it's just sitting there empty. Maybe in ten or twenty years it could become apartments, if the housing market in that part of North City recovers, but not today.

Then again, I would have never dreamed the Bardenheier Winery on Skinker north of Olive could be renovated into apartments. Or for that matter, Homer G. Phillips Hospital. So I guess anything is possible.


Travis Reems said...


There are Board seats up for election in early '07. You have some pretty good ideas. Have you ever cosidered a run?

Anonymous said...

As much as I'd like to see Cleveland remain a school, I think it's only fair that South City also experience closures. With dwindling enrollment and Carnahan starting its first year as "HS of the Future" this year, maybe it's time to close a HS of the Past like the Castle.

Anonymous said...

In other words, the status quo is OK and the only real confusion in your mind is what to do with Cleveland?

Gee, what about the other 100 or so schools with critical infrastructure needs, a district budget with a looming deficit, principles and teachers who face another year with inadequate support and students who are not receiveing a quality education?

It seems like the schools need a lot of support and a lot of partnerships--whatever you think of Creg Williams I can't believe you think that removing with so little discussion is a good way of promoting the level of involvement that is needed in the schools.

And, yes, that involvement includes the mayor of the city of St. Louis, no matter what grief particular individuals have with him.

Anonymous said...

Slowly but surely, more City voters are realizing they voted for teachers' union pawns guised as school parents.