Webster Groves School District Superintendent Sarah Riss presented to the Board of Education about the district's action regarding the controversial issue of open enrollment.
Riss presented on behalf of the district Legislative Advocacy Committee (LAC), a group that formed this past fall and boasts 50 members from the district. The committee was initiated when the district recognized the need for an organized body to be actively involved in state-level education policy.
The superintendent told board members Monday that the district needed to closely follow the open enrollment policy now before the Missouri State Board of Education.
"There is a lot of confusion now, because there are several unknowns," Riss said. "We don't know what the new parameters will be for students in unaccredited districts; we don't know what the state will require of us; but we want to be prepared and have a compromise ready to present to our legislatures if the time comes."
Riss explained that the current proposal being formulated in Jefferson City would implement an open enrollment policy for the state. Missouri would become the 15th state to enact completely open enrollment, which would permit children to attend schools outside their own district, and sometimes outside their home counties.
The Missouri Supreme Court Case, Turner v Clayton, cited by Riss in her presentation, ruled that unaccredited students could transfer to an accredited district in the same or adjoining counties as their home district.
But because the case has been remanded (re-submitted in circuit court) the decision has been stayed.
"Personally, I think the courts are sitting on it because they think the legislature is going to act on it with open enrollment," said Cathy Vespereny, Community Relations Director for the Webster Groves School District.
The district is consulting its attorney about when families from surrounding districts can seek a transfer. The district is not currently accepting outside students, according to Riss.
"It's the lack of specific parameters that makes us uneasy," the superintendent said. "Our class sizes are small at the behest of our community. We can offer students very individualized education, and I think we could lose that with a sudden influx of transfer students that we can't turn away."
LAC member and former BOE member Stephen Rudolph told the board to "think outside the box."
"The legislature took 10 words out of the [state] statute in 1993, and when they did they changed everything," Rudolph said. "If the state passes open enrollment, it will be the mother of all unfunded mandates. ... Consider drastic measures; consider rejecting federal funds to avoid some of these unfair mandates; consider privatizing the district."
Riss was quick to clarify that Rudolph was speaking on behalf of himself and not LAC.
"Of course, these are just my thoughts," Rudolph said. "But something must be done."
The 10 words Rudolph refers to are, "but no school shall be required to admit any pupil," which were taken out of section 167.131 of Missouri state statue on education.
The LAC wanted more specific parameters on how many students the district might be forced to take in and what authority the district would have in selecting transfer students, rather than simply being assigned a list of names, according to Riss.
Dan Kinney, an audio engineer at KDHK, wants his two children to go to Webster Groves Schools next year.
"I had a statement prepared, but after hearing you guys talk tonight, I'd like to amend it," Kinney said.
Kinney has two children. His son is a 7th-grade football player, and his daughter is a 5th grader interested in music.
"At my daughters school, the end the music program is at 6th grade," Kinney said. "My son is approaching high school, and he wants to keep playing sports."
Kinney's wife, Nancy, graduated from Webster Groves High School in 1982 and speaks very highly of the district and the community, Kinney told board members.
"When we bought our home, the district was accredited," Kinney said. "Of course we can't sell it now, with the economy suffering so much."
Dan and Nancy Kinney told the board they'd adopt the district's tax structure, provide transportation and do just about anything to let their children attend a better school.
"I know that you can't take every kid in St. Louis in a bad school," Kinney said. "The public doesn't want charter schools. We just want out kids to have a good shot at college. Please (offer) open enrollment to some of these kids. They need you so badly."