- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A suburban St. Louis school system on Friday shed its nearly decade-old unaccredited tag that had forced it to pay millions of dollars to transfer its students to non-failing districts.

The Missouri State Board of Education unanimously voted to provisionally accredit the Riverview Gardens School District, starting when schools resume post-holiday classes Jan. 4.

The district was stripped of its accreditation in 2007 after the board ruled its schools and students were underperforming in attendance, test scores and graduation rates. The decision was costly for Riverview Gardens: Under state law, students in unaccredited districts are allowed to attend schools in accredited ones but on the home district’s dime. The failing grade cost Riverview Gardens millions.

Also Friday, the state board deferred until next month addressing the provisional classification of St. Louis’ school district, left the Normandy school system near St. Louis as the state’s only other unaccredited district, and kept untouched the provisional accreditation of the Kansas City, Calhoun, Hayti and Hickman Mills school districts.

Friday’s upgrade of Riverview Gardens comes after the district surpassed the state’s accreditation threshold of at least 70 percent for the past two years in annual performance reports. The state typically considers multiple years of data before making an accreditation change.

Provisionally accredited districts still are subject to extra monitoring.

More than 400 Riverview Gardens’ students attend 22 other districts and charter schools, each of which has agreed to let them remain at least through the end of the current school year.

State education board members on Friday praised Scott Spurgeon, Riverview Gardens’ superintendent since 2013, for his “exemplary” work and leadership in the district’s turnaround.

“We could’ve just thrown in the towel for any number of reasons, but that’s not who we are,” Spurgeon told the state board Friday.

Riverview Gardens’ struggles are longstanding, partly due to corruption.

In 2009, the former schools superintendent, Henry Williams, pleaded no contest to stealing from the school system. Investigators said Williams, overseer of the district for five years until he was fired in mid-2007, spent thousands of the system’s dollars on trips, office art, cash advances and theater tickets. During his administration, the district’s reserves fell to $2 million from $12 million.

Williams served 30 days in jail, was placed on probation and was ordered to pay more than $100,000 in restitution to Riverview Gardens. He died in 2012.

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