South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Mehlville School District eliminates At Home program due to deficit spending

Program will close at the end of current school year

The Mehlville School District will no longer offer its At Home virtual learning program next school year.

The Board of Education voted 5-1 at its meeting Dec. 14 to eliminate the At Home program for the 2024-2025 school year due to the $1.1 million annually in deficit spending to maintain it. Director Jeff Wolman was the only dissenting vote.

The At Home program is a virtual K-8 school, with 98 students and 20 full-time and part-time staff combined. It was started in 2020 as an alternative option to in-person learning during the pandemic. In 2022, it was expanded to be offered to students from other districts as a full-time virtual education option through the Missouri Course Access Program, or MOCAP.

Over the summer, district staff began a financial review of the program to determine its long-term viability. It operates at a $1.1 million deficit, bringing in revenues of $550,000 while expensing $1.6 million.  To break even, the program would need a total enrollment of 240-250 students with no additional staff.

Additionally, 44% of students in the program are not in the district or tax base. According to data from the district, 54 students in the program are also residents of the school district, while 43 students are from outside the district.

Class ratios are also not in line with the rest of the district. An At Home elementary class ratio has seven students for every core teacher, while an in-person elementary class has 20.5 students for every core teacher.

At Home middle school staff do not have a full-time schedule and cover other areas, or provide support as interventionists.

After the review, the staff’s recommendation was to close the At Home program due to the deficit, enrollment percentages and class ratios.

“This is not a decision at all made on teacher effort, student effort and passion. We could not be more proud of and thankful for the efforts of our At Home staff. What they’ve done to make this program what it is is amazing,” Superintendent Jeff Haug said at the Dec. 14 meeting. “With that being said, our recommendation to the Board of Education – and know that this is not easy – that with the financial ramification of deficit spending $1.1 million dollars annually, class size ratios not in line with district ratios and subsidizing out-of-district students … the district’s recommendation is closing the At Home program.”

The board held a special meeting on Dec. 7 prior to its vote last week, where the bulk of the At Home discussion occurred. Directors asked for information such as marketing plans for the program and its retention at that special meeting.

According to Haug, a marketing plan would require an additional full-time staff member, at the cost of $60,000 to $85,000 a year, in addition to $15,000 to $50,000 for online and advertising support.

As far as retention, 24 students have been in the program since 2021-2022, while 42 students have been with the program since 2022-2023. At the start of the 2021-22 school year, 171 students participated in the At Home program from start to finish, out of 222 total enrolled. In 2022-23, 52 students finished a full year out of a total enrollment of 112.

“As an educator who’s been around for a long time, whatever happens here … when one door closes, another door opens. And I mean that for the educators and the students,” Director Jean Pretto said in a statement before the board’s vote. “Remember that as this time goes by now, this could be a beginning, not an end. Thank you for everything you do.”

Wolman, the only vote in favor of keeping the program, said that At Home is a piece of the puzzle that helps the district “meet every student where they are.”

“One of the things that matters is trying to meet every student where they are, and At Home is a piece of that. It’s unfortunately an expensive piece of that, and from the parents that we’ve heard from, it helps their students excel sometimes in avenues that would not work in conventional education,” Wolman said. “I think it’s a very important piece that should continue on in some manner, but the problem is At Home is a small piece of the virtual education puzzle and … we’re spending a lot of money trying to make it happen.”

On a voice vote, the board voted 5-1 to end the program. It will continue through the second semester of the 2023-2024 school year, and staff will work with families on transition plans after winter break. At Home students can continue to attend school virtually through a different MOCAP provider or return to their home school.

At Home teachers will be reassigned following district board policies, which call for tenured teachers to be transferred to other vacant positions in the district based on seniority, certification and subject matter. Probationary teachers will be placed following tenured staff.