Confidence in the St. Louis Schools Hitting All-Time Low With Philanthropists

Philanthropists, business leaders, and educational advocates across the region have lost confidence in the St. Louis schools board’s ability to correct the ongoing problems in its district, according to a September 2, 2006, article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The recent forced departure of Superintendent Creg Williams signaled to philanthropic groups and business leaders that problems were escalating within the St. Louis schools. Many believed Williams had a good plan and goals in place; yet the St. Louis schools board replaced Williams after only 16 months in the position, leaving many current donors to re-evaluate their commitments of money and services to the St. Louis schools.

Though many are willing to give the new superintendent, Diana Bourisaw, the opportunity to correct the St. Louis schools’ problems, their confidence in the St. Louis schools board has been eroded.

President and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, Dick Fleming, said there is no sense of real progress being made by the St. Louis schools board in terms of direction and improvement. Williams had brought prominence and a reputation of success to the position of superintendent. Just when a sense of momentum was being seen within the St. Louis schools, it was abruptly changed with Williams’ departure. It makes philanthropists and business leaders stop and re-access the situation.

Bourisaw is the sixth superintendent for the St. Louis schools in the last three years. She was hired without a formal interview process by the St. Louis schools board majority, another event that makes outsiders pause and re-evaluate. The St. Louis schools appear to be perpetually unstable, with years of dismal test scores and constant financial upheaval.

Though many community and regional groups wish to continue supporting the St. Louis schools students, they are wary of the St. Louis schools board’s ability to do the job. They have experienced a lack of cooperation from elected and hired St. Louis schools officials, who “often border on hostile”. With such instability and the lack of goodwill from the administrators and board responsible for the district, it is difficult to maintain any sort of successes.

Here are just a few of the groups re-evaluating their support of the St. Louis schools:

o Vashon Compact — An advocacy group dedicated to improving student achievement in a block of St. Louis schools. Executive Director Bill Carson stated they will not be renewing their five-year contract, which ends at the end of September 2006.

o Metropolitan Association for Philanthropy — They provide guidance to 75 leading foundations in the area, including Anheuser-Busch, Boeing, A.G. Edwards, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s charitable foundations. They recently established a group to study the current situation of the St. Louis schools.

o Pettus Foundation — Managing Trustee James Finch announced in July that in 2007 the foundation will stop funding organizations that work with the St. Louis schools. They cited the pity politics of the St. Louis schools board, the many factions within the board, the conduct of its members at meetings, and their lack of progress and successes.

o St. Louis Black Leadership Roundtable — They cautioned the St. Louis schools board that they may support a state takeover of the district, if the board fails to address problems, such as low achievement among African-American students.

These are not isolated sentiments. Many philanthropic groups, advocates and business leaders have been public with similar comments. Bill Carson of Vashon Compact believes a state takeover may be the only solution that will entice the philanthropic groups to continue their relationships with the St. Louis schools.

Natasha M. McKnight

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