On the Closing of St. Louis Public Schools Buildings

The St. Louis Public Schools Board of Education meets Tuesday, January 12th at 6:30 PM to vote on the proposal to close 11 St. Louis Public School Buildings. While the Board of Aldermen passed a resolution in December condemning the closure of these schools at a meeting that I could not unfortunately attend due to being very sick with COVID-19, my perspective is somewhat different than the opinion expressed in that resolution.

Our Kids Must Matter More Than Buildings

No one wants a vacant school building in their community. Vacancy runs all too rampant in our city. I’m not naive to the differences in future prospects for redevelopment of vacant school buildings on the Northside versus neighborhoods like Tower Grove South that have hot housing markets. I also think that no student should be going to school in substandard and unsafe buildings. We are currently paying for buildings when we should be paying for kids.

If school consolidations mean students go to school in safer buildings, I’m for that. If they mean we get a nurse in every school, I’m for that. If they mean we have more certified teachers and less permanent substitutes teaching students, I’m for that. And if they mean a social worker in every school, I’m for that too. These are all things that are made possible through the cosolidation plan.

School closings are heartbreaking and speak to larger issues in our community. And I think we need a long-term plan for right sizing the school district. As others have stated, even with this round of school closures, SLPS still has more buildings than comparably sized districts in St. Louis County. SLPS has a student population of 18,000 students in 68 buildings. By comparison, Rockwood has 22,000 students in 31 schools, Ferguson-Florissant has 11,000 students in 24 schools, and Hazelwood has 18,000 students in 29 schools. We need a comprehensive plan for how many schools are needed and where. This needs to include charter schools too, that currently enroll 11,000 students in 34 buildings (and growing), even as SLPS experiences a decline in student enrollment.

Saving Sumner

We Cannot Change the Past but We Can Learn From It

As a Board of Aldermen we must take responsibility for our role in creating the conditions that lead to school closures through the over use of tax incentives. We have unprecedented levels of development happening in our City. At the same time, the bulk of these incentives are going into the most stable and affluent areas of City, often subsidizing luxury housing with no requirements for affordable housing set asides. In fact, the development strategy for the City has been so blunt as to even equate residents with kids in public schools with criminals insofar as their “drain” on city resources. Our kids cannot wait 10 or 15 years to realize the tax revenues from the unprecedented levels of development occurring in our City right now. Our schools should benefit from this development now. The good news is these mindsets are changing, and the appetite for meaningful tax incentive reform is increasing too.

The Role of the Board of Aldermen

Over my six years on the Board, we’ve developed a strong and growing coalition who is willing to buck Aldermanic Courtesy and take a more critical eye toward incentives, while greatly changing community sentiment toward these tax breaks. It is possible that we may hold the majority of members on the Board, or very close to it, after this round of elections. With community and school district support, we can codify real reform into law to support our schools.

The Role of the Mayor

Additionally, as the Board of Aldermen works to create a strategy for tax incentive allocation, we need a Mayor who is not only willing to work with the Board on developing this strategy, but also who is willing to use the veto pen when and if subsidies are granted that are in violation of this plan.

Using The Bully Pulpit

In Sum

Unapologically Progressive | 15th Ward Alderwoman | PhD Ed Policy | Former DNC Member | STL City