- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The demise of an unaccredited school district in Missouri would have devastating ramifications for both the students and the district taking them on, St. Louis-area school leaders said Tuesday.

A task force of education leaders released details of an analytical study on what would happen if a district was forced to cease operation and consolidate with a neighboring district. The study looked specifically at the potential demise of the Normandy School District in St. Louis County.

Failure of the Normandy district is a real possibility. Normandy and the neighboring Riverview Gardens district are both unaccredited and facing a bleak financial future, the result of a state law implemented this school year allowing students to transfer - at the district’s cost - to better-performing schools.

Superintendent Ty McNichols has said his district is on track to run out of money as early as April as it pays transportation and tuition expenses for nearly 1,000 transfer students.

Consolidation would mean the remaining 4,000 Normandy students would all be bused further from their homes, said Mike Fulton, superintendent of the Pattonville School District. He was among several school leaders involved in the analysis.

“The kids of Normandy lose, and the community loses if they don’t have community schools,” Fulton said.

The study found that the district accepting the Normandy students would lose, too. Though some state money would arrive, it wouldn’t make up for the influx and per-student funding would decline. Property taxes could rise in the consolidated district.

Meanwhile, the lower test scores of arriving Normandy students would reduce overall performance of the district. The study found that nine St. Louis-area districts would go from accredited to provisionally accredited if they accepted Normandy students; three districts would become unaccredited.

The educators developed a plan dubbed “The new Path to Excellence.” The plan essentially says that the state should focus on improving performance at troubled districts, rather than paying to send them elsewhere.

Webster Groves School District Superintendent Sarah Riss warned that the issue could soon impact rural schools, too. She said new performance standards starting in the fall of 2015 could lead to many more districts being provisionally accredited or unaccredited.

“This is a statewide issue,” Riss said. “We must act now.”

Missouri Board of Education members are looking at more than a half-dozen proposals aimed at bolstering the performance of struggling school districts. Kansas City public schools are also unaccredited, but the transfer program has not been implemented there. An additional 11 districts have provisional accreditation.

The state board is scheduled to meet Feb. 18.

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