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Public Attention on Public Education

It’s been a while since education dominated the local news headlines. All of it is not necessarily good news, but what’s good is that people are fully engaged in discussing the complex issues of public education.

Ferguson-Florissant Superintendent Art McCoy Jr. has been benched. The student transfer fiasco is out of control. State education commissioner Chris Nicastro’s resignation has been demanded. It is important that concerned citizens stay focused until these major issues get resolved.

A few weeks ago Normandy Superintendent Tyrone McNichols made his presentation to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) at a public forum. In the midst of trying to turn around a failing school district, Normandy is on the brink of financial disaster as a result of the ill-conceived payment plan for student transfers to accredited districts.

At the public forum, I remember a parent asking why the failed Wellston School District was merged with an already troubled Normandy district instead of a stronger, accredited district. Her question was met with a few boos and hisses because the audience thought it was a put-down of Wellston.  

I felt it was a valid question. Since corporate school reformers like to talk about schools using a business model, there’s little evidence in the world of business mergers where two failing companies come together in a successful partnership.

McCoy was summarily suspended by the Ferg-Flor school board for reasons not completely stated. What has been slowly leaking since that suspension seems to be politically motivated – or, at least, personally motivated vendettas by his own board members. District parents, teachers and students are waiting for the transparency of this situation to reveal what’s really going on and how the district intends to move forward – with McCoy at the helm.

Nicastro, as education commissioner, is ostensibly the protector of public education for the Missouri’s kids. Through documents acquired through the Sunshine Law, it has been revealed that Nicastro has been working with school choice advocates on the latest ballot initiative to add some more nails to the coffin of public education.

Mayor Francis G. Slay showed his disdain for public education with the support of the Alvarez and Marsal demolition team headed by Bill Roberti. The St. Louis Public Schools have never really recovered from their $5 million wrecking ball that was unleashed on it nearly a decade ago. The well-financed strategy to erode public education has continued on all fronts since then.

Slay’s cousin, Laura Slay, heads up Rex Sinquefield’s Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri, which intends to be the premier charter school group in the state. In the last legislative session, state Senator Jamilah Nasheed introduced a bill that opens the door for the termination of “incompetent” tenured teachers in a 30-day period.

Nasheed received a chunk of money from Rex for her last election. Speaker of the House Tim Jones got $100,000 from Rex and President Prom Tem Tom Dempsey received $50,000. Jones and Dempsey are powerful deciders of which bills get the green light and which get the legislative trash can.

Public education is the one of the cornerstones of a true democracy, a system that gives every young citizen a superior set of skills and knowledge to compete in the world. I am committed to preserving that right. I’m also committed to holding people accountable.

For those whose salaries we pay, taxpayers need to address incompetency on all levels. I don’t’ know of one school district that DESE has turned around once it discredited it. For legislators, judges and others who are making decisions that represent corporate interests and not their constituencies, they either need additional guidance or the collective public boot. For starters, we need to bid farewell to Chris Nicastro.

 

Reprinted from St. Louis American, December 5, 2013

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