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 will continue to cut VICC enrollment, but by 10 percent

District receives $5.6 million this year for VICC participation

The Mehlville School District will continue to reduce voluntary transfer student enrollment, but by 10 percent annually instead of 15 percent.

The Board of Education voted 6-0 last week to change the annual reduction in voluntary transfer student enrollment to 10 percent from 15 percent. Board member Ken Leach abstained.

Administrators had recommended changing the percentage of the enrollment reduction based on their belief the board of the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp. will vote next month to extend the voluntary transfer student program for five additional years.

Mehlville board members voted unanimously in May 2004 to approve a 15-percent annual reduction in voluntary transfer student enrollment that had been recommended by a board-appointed panel, the VICC Settlement Agreement Study Group. The enrollment reduction was effective with the 2005-2006 school year.

Starting with the 1999-2000 school year, court-ordered desegregation ended and was replaced with a settlement agreement that had been projected to continue through the 2008-2009 school year. The Mehlville committee, which began meeting in the fall of 2003, was charged with reviewing the settlement agreement and providing the Board of Education with options to consider regarding the district’s future participation in the voluntary transfer student program.

Mehlville’s VICC committee, comprised of students, faculty and residents, formulated its recommendation after meeting over a six-month period. The committee had considered other options, such as decreasing annual enrollment by 0 percent, 5 percent or 10 percent, but believed the 15-percent option was the most viable for the district and was similar to Mehlville’s natural attrition rate for VICC students.

At the time of the recommendation, Mehlville was receiving nearly $7 million annually for its participation in the program. For the current school year, the district will receive slightly more than $5.6 million for its participation.

At the May 17 board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost reviewed the committee’s charge and recommendation.

“… Long story — a little bit shorter — what came out of that review was a recommendation to begin reducing the number of VICC enrollments we take each year by 15 percent. Again, the thought was that that would soften the blow, if you will, of ’08-’09 of when suddenly it would go away altogether and we would lose those kids,” he said.

He later added, “So we have been operating under a 15-percent reduction each year … We have to recruit students each year to get up to that 15-percent reduction. In other words, if we were to not recruit VICC students, we’d probably be more like losing 20-25 percent,” Knost said.

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Brian Lane interjected, “Thirty-eight (percent).”

In response to a question from Secretary Micheal Ocello, Lane said, “At this point, they’re just talking about the five-year extension, but the head of VICC, Bruce Ellerman, he seems to feel that after the five-year extension, there’s a very good chance that they would be looking into an additional five-year extension beyond that. His line of thinking, which many of the superintendents in the county districts also agreed with, is with the current situation in the St. Louis Public Schools, it’s a fair assumption that this program is going to be needed for an extended amount of time. And they also feel that the funding … if the districts vote to be in it, it’s guaranteed to be there a minimum of the extension time and the feeling is that it will be there beyond that …”

Board member Cindy Christopher later recalled that four years ago Mehlville officials believed transportation for the program would end in 2008.

Knost said, “And unfortunately, it was a thought that was incorrect. Bruce Ellerman has made it very clear that that was never his analysis and never his intent to suggest that the transportation was going away. I’m just mentioning that since we’re obviously discussing this in public. But you’re right.

“Internally, we had that thought process for whatever reason … I think there will always be a need for this program to continue because it’s about much more than affording minority students the right to come out to higher-quality schools in the county.

“There are great benefits to the program. Folks often forget the magnet-school program where there are county students going into the city in the magnet schools. A lot of it has to do with diversity and affording kids the ability of things that many of us didn’t have when we went to school as far as the student population makeup. So it does a lot beyond just providing inner-city minority students with a better education in county schools. I personally believe the need and the interest in the program is probably going to always be there …”

At one point, board Vice President Karl Frank Jr. asked what the administration would recommend.

Lane said, “My recommendation is to go with the 10-percent reduction. I think financially it makes a lot of sense and I also feel that we could consistently recruit well and hit those numbers. But like I said, (it’s) a board decision and if you want to go — I have no problem going after the 5 percent.

“I would just put that in your minds that on some years we might not be able to equitably across the board hit those numbers to get down to 5 percent.”

Knost said, “We just may not hit the mark, and Brian and I have talked in depth about this and we both agreed that the reality of it is the 10 percent probably — it’s realistic. The 5 percent, while we’d be glad to give it a shot, we just may have trouble hitting that mark.”

Ocello said, “I want to make sure that I’m clear on something so that I can say this for record. Last year on our MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) testing, we only had one category that didn’t make it. That was a minority category, and bringing these students in I agree with you gentlemen 110 percent. It provides diversity and I also think it’s important for the community beyond our school district … I do think that it is a reality and I think it’s a very sensitive subject to talk about, but it is a reality that last year our MAP testing we had one category that didn’t do well and it was that particular category.

“But that has no impact on those children who live in our district. They still — their scores were still above — they continue to excel and I just hope that when people hear about what’s going on with VICC, our decisions that may be made, that they understand while it may cause a little bit of a hiccup in how we’re viewed because of test scores, it doesn’t impact the overall quality of the education we provide to our students.”

Knost said, “I agree with you. I appreciate you saying that and there’s other factors that aren’t magnified. For instance, if one were to look at the raise that you would see in that population from the previous year to the current year, while we did not meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) — although we did in some buildings — but while we did not meet AYP across the board, there were significant improvements … We did a lot of good things for a lot of good kids, and you can’t help from the educator perspective of what we do for society … and how those kids would have fared in a different situation.”

After further discussion, the board voted 6-0 to approve Ocello’s motion to reduce voluntary transfer student enrollment by 10 percent. Leach abstained because he was not present for the entire discussion.

In a related matter, the board voted unanimously to adopt a resolution related to the State Board of Education’s decision to classify the St. Louis Public School District as “unaccredited,” effective June 15.

Noting the district has received inquiries from city students about transferring to Mehlville, the resolution states: “… Under all the circumstances, the district at this point in time will not be accepting any such applications or responding definitively to any such inquiries pending further legal clarification and guidance and/or further action of the board.”

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