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Aldermen balk at plan to close 11 schools

CITY HALL – A proposal to close 11 city schools has come under strong opposition from the Board of Aldermen.

A resolution passed by the board on Friday said a vote by the St. Louis Board of Education set for Tuesday wouldn’t give the public and area local, state and elected officials time to consider the plan. The Board of Aldermen wants a delay to allow the public and politicians to include their thoughts on the plan.

SLPS Board of Education offices, 801 N. 11th Street

The resolution also said a rating system that considered such factors as the condition of buildings, enrollment and population of the surrounding area was flawed. It also said the consolidation and closing plan would continue a practice that has harmed the north side more than the south side.

St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams announced the plan on Dec. 1. The board held a virtual town hall on Dec. 8 and will vote on the proposals at its meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 15. The plan is the result of study and public engagement that started in the 2015-16 school year.

Sharon Tyus

“We’re just asking the school board not to make this decision hastily,” said First Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, who sponsored the resolution.

Tyus spoke of the importance of education to an area, both to her and to residents as a whole.

 “Education is what changes the whole outlook,” she said. “It gives you an opportunity to do a lot of different things.”

Tyus said that her parents “made my sister and I know that our job was to go to school and have an education.”

The changes would eliminate all schools in the Fourth Ward, including the historic Sumner High School, which is the oldest African-American high school west of the Mississippi.

“Sumner High School is such an important part of St. Louis history,” Tyus said.

Dwinderlin Evans

“Dismantling of the Fourth Ward. Where is it going to stop?” Fourth Ward Alderwoman Dwinderlin Evans asked. “What’s the rush? Whose agenda are you attending to?”

Seven of the consolidations would be in the northern part of the city, while four would be in the south. There are more people in south St. Louis than in north St. Louis.

Under the proposal, Clay, Dunbar, Farragut, Ford, Hickey, Monroe and Fanning elementary schools would close, as would Carnahan, Cleveland, Northwest and Sumner high schools. Carnahan would convert to a middle school over three years, while the ROTC program at Cleveland would move to another school.

Money saved through the closings will be distributed to other district schools, Adams said recently.

Factors in recommending the closings included the amount of change in a school’s enrollment and the population of the surrounding neighborhood and the condition of a building. The district could use saved money for more services for students.

Also Friday, the Board of Aldermen voted to refer a proposed resolution removing party-specific language from its rules to its Engrossment, Rules, Resolutions and Credentials Committee.

Joe Vaccaro

Twenty-Third Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro introduced the resolution after city residents passed Proposition D. That requires all candidates for mayor, board of aldermen president, comptroller and alderman to run as nonpartisan candidates.

In a 12-11 vote with one saying “present,” the board rejected Vaccaro’s motion to allow an immediate vote on the measure instead of sending it to the rules committee.

“I do want to give this a thorough look,” Eighth Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice said.

“It’s a simple rules change,” Vaccaro argued.

Also, in a light-hearted moment, the board passed another resolution designed to ensure that Santa Claus can deliver toys to good St. Louis children if everyone follows proper COVID-19 protocol.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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