- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri State Board of Education voted Tuesday to impose immediate financial oversight over a St. Louis County school district seeking state financial help to get through the school year.

The action means the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education approval is needed for expenditures, contracts, financial obligations and actions with financial implications by the Normandy School District. The state board also created a transition team to develop plans for the district’s operations starting in July.

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said the oversight would allow the department to ensure money approved for Normandy is monitored and judiciously spent. She said students will complete the term in their current classrooms - relieving concern that students might be sent elsewhere or miss graduation were the district to become financially insolvent this spring.

Normandy is facing financial difficulties while paying for about 1,000 students to transfer under a Missouri law requiring unaccredited districts pay costs for students to attend a nearby accredited school. An education official called the district’s condition “very, very fragile.”

Normandy spokeswoman Daphne Dorsey said the district had not been aware of the plan. She said the financial problems stem from the transfer law.

“We’re doing everything that we possibly can to be financially responsible,” Dorsey said. “This just ensures that we’re going to remain operational.”

Normandy has eliminated 103 jobs and closed an elementary school while saving more than $3 million. The district also could pay as much as $130,000 for lobbying efforts.

“I think they have been very responsible and made some of those tough choices. I don’t believe that they’ve made all the tough choices,” Nicastro said. “And I think that they have been heavily reliant on the anticipation of getting some additional monies from the Legislature.”

The oversight in Normandy came on the same day the State Board of Education reviewed the education department’s recommendations for assisting and intervening in Missouri school districts. That proposal seeks earlier interventions and would provide greater state involvement as a district’s performance worsens. Officials plan hearings next week in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Under the proposal, binding performance contracts would be enacted between provisionally accredited school districts and the state. Individual schools also would be accredited. Districts that continue to struggle could become unaccredited.

For unaccredited districts, education officials could decide to keep local school boards in place, appoint a special administrative board or create an alternative governance structure, such as an administrator who reports directly to the education commissioner. A state fiscal monitor also would be appointed.

Unaccredited districts that do not improve could be lapsed, according to the proposal. Options at that point could include bringing districts under state oversight for restructuring and assigning students to other school systems.

Missouri officials have been considering school plans since a law took effect last year giving the state education department greater powers to intervene in unaccredited districts. Numerous proposals had been submitted.

The three districts currently unaccredited are Normandy, Riverview Gardens and Kansas City public schools. Another 11 school systems have provisional accreditation.

Unaccredited districts have been getting significant legislative attention, including over the 1993 student transfer law. Transfers were carried out this academic year in Normandy and Riverview Gardens in St. Louis County and could start in Kansas City.

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