St. Louis Schools Get Low Grades

By Jeff Archer — December 12, 2006 1 min read

While a state-appointed task force weighs options for dealing with leadership turmoil in the St. Louis public schools, opinion in the city appears to be solidly in favor of some form of state intervention.

Poll results released last week showed that 60 percent of a representative sample of local voters favored state involvement to fix the district’s problems. That compared with 33 percent who opposed it.

Organized by the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation, the poll was requested by a panel of local leaders named by the state this past summer, after the local school board ousted its then-superintendent.

“We have an objective measure that says people clearly think things are broken, and somebody has to fix it,” David Luckes, the community foundation’s president and chief executive officer, said in an interview.

The same survey showed that, when asked to grade the district’s quality on an A-F scale, local voters gave the system an average grade of D.

Presented at a meeting Dec. 4 of the state-appointed panel, called the St. Louis Public Schools Advisory Committee, the results come amid continued infighting among the district’s top leaders.

School board President Veronica O’Brien has been publicly critical in recent weeks of Superintendent Diana Bourisaw, the sixth person to serve as the top administrator of the 34,000-student district in less than four years.

Last month, Ms. O’Brien said herself that state intervention is needed, but her plan primarily involved eliminating the superintendent’s position, and having a chief academic officer and a chief operating officer run the system temporarily.

“I think the [state-appointed] task force is spending too much time on governance,” she said in an interview last week, when asked about the new poll results. “If you concentrate on academics, then everything else will fall into place.”

The survey did not ask respondents what form state intervention should take. Ms. O’Brien said eliminating the locally elected school board in favor of an appointed one would deny the public its voice.

Co-chaired by a civil rights lawyer and a retired chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, the advisory committee is scheduled to hold its last meeting Dec. 15, after which it will make its recommendations.

A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2006 edition of Education Week