The Associated Press
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — For the second time in three months, the state Board of Education voted Thursday to remove accreditation from a St. Louis-area school district.
The board decided without a dissenting vote to knock the Riverview Gardens district from provisional to unaccredited status.
Riverview Gardens removed its superintendent in March. State auditors say Henry Williams directed school money to his daughter and girlfriend, his savings plans and trips. County prosecutors also have charged him with stealing and tax evasion.
In March, the state board also stripped the St. Louis city district of accreditation, and an appointed board began running those schools last week.
However, St. Louis was an unusual case, and Riverview Gardens will have a two-year window before being subject to a state takeover, the course normally taken by Missouri school districts.
The section of state law providing for a so-called “transitional” district and board is tailored specifically to St. Louis in response to a federal desegregation settlement. It allows the state board to dissolve or recreate the transitional district as needed.
In Riverview Gardens’ case, the most practical immediate effect of the state board’s action is to create new options for where students attend school.
When a district becomes unaccredited, its students can transfer to another district that will take them, with the unaccredited district covering the tuition costs, and if they choose a particular school, the transportation costs.
The state considers 14 performance standards in setting districts’ accreditation levels. Districts need six to be provisionally accredited and nine to be fully accredited. Riverview Gardens earned just three in its latest review, education department staff members told the state board. That includes only one of six standards measuring students’ scores on state standardized tests.
“It’s pretty clear to me when you look at that data — it’s going down and it’s pretty bad,” Education Commissioner Kent King said.
The district also has serious financial problems, staff said, with its fund balance expected to fall from about $12.3 million, accounting for 20 percent of expenditures, at the end of the 2004-05 school year, to about $1.6 million, less than 3 percent of spending, by the end of June. Gerri Ogle, associate education commissioner, said the local board made some decisions that have reduced the district’s state aid, including shifting some of its tax collection to capital projects and making cuts to summer school.
The reaction of current school officials to the state decision was vastly different from with the takeover of St. Louis schools, when a packed room of angry students had to be cleared so business could continue. Members of the elected board were unsuccessful in their effort to get a court to block the takeover.
Thursday, two women who are leading the Riverview Gardens district since Williams’ removal said they looked forward to working with the state to turn around the district.
“I have a smile on my face,” said co-interim superintendent Rhonda Key. “We know where we stand. We know where we have to go. When you do not meet a particular standard of success, there comes along consequences.”
The district had gained full accreditation in February 2002 but fell to provisional status in March 2005, according to state education officials.
Riverview Gardens in St. Louis County has about 8,000 students and is now the third unaccredited district in the state, joining Wyaconda and St. Louis. Missouri has 10 other districts that are short of full accreditation.
The Associated Press