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St. Louis City Schools Only Rate “Fair” With State Auditor’s Office

Brett Blume
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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - By a very narrow margin the St. Louis Public School District received a rating of “Fair” from the office of Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich Wednesday.

That’s the same rating as last year.

But during a downtown press conference to release his findings, Schweich pointed out that school district officials were so uncooperative and dragged the process out so long that there was a debate in his office about whether city schools should be dropped down to “Poor”, the lowest rating.

“When we started the audit we got a letter saying we didn’t have the legal authority to do the audit,” Schweich pointed out. “We got over that…it was not based on any sound legal principles that we could tell. And all the way to the very end there was resistance to providing copies of the audit to certain people.”

Schweich did not identify those “certain people”.

However he had plenty more to say about what his office discovered during the audit of St. Louis public schools.

For instance, the district “does not fully comply” with state law with respect to the promotion and retention of at-risk students.

He cited a test given to 1,800 third and fourth graders in 2011, which led to 749 of them being identified as “at risk” for retention.

Of that number, only 372 attended summer school according to Schweich.

“Of those who went into summer school, 91 of those students improved,” he explained. “And yet of the 749 identified as ‘at risk’, 747 were allowed to go on to the next grade. Even the 377 who didn’t go to summer school.”

Schweich said even the district’s own accountability office allowed that promoting so many at risk students violated state law, but one administrator explained point-blank that they simply didn’t have the resources necessary to comply with the law.

Schweich called that response “unsatisfactory”, adding that a big part of the problem was that the district had slashed its own accountability office from eight people down to two as part of their cost-saving measures.

In turn, that has created a serious lack of oversight for the approximately 1,000 separate programs that need regular in-house monitoring — things like cross-cirricular writing, Focus Friday, etc.

“In 2010 and a couple of other years we found in general about 10 program evaluations a year are done,” Schweich said. “That’s 1%…it would take a hundred years to evaluate all of the programs at that level.”

Other findings in the audit:

* Audit staff reviewed monitoring forms for the required Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test, and discovered about 100 forms from 30 schools within the district could not be found. No monitoring forms had been submitted for 3 schools and less than the minimum four monitoring forms had been submitted for another 12 schools.

Should parents of city school students be satisfied with the integrity of district MAP results?

“No. When monitoring forms aren’t being submitted, you don’t know,” Schweich replied.

* Since 2004 St. Louis public schools have contracted with the same vendor for student bus transportation services, the largest single contract within the district. Total expenditures over that time — more than $23,000,000. Other 2012 purchases over $5,000 that did not undergo competitive bidding included textbooks, musical instruments, and some maintenance services.

* The St. Louis Public School District had a deficit fund balance of $55 million as of June 30, 2011. While the financial condition has improved, the district will likely face new challenges in future years. Significant cutbacks and one-time desegregation settlement funding allowed the district to eliminate the deficit balance, but that funding will end after the current school year. That may require more significant budget cutting or additional funding.

* There are significant concerns with the district’s curriculum management, and many of the concerns still exist. For example, the district’s central office administration is not aware of all educational programs and is not properly evaluating those programs to determine if they are positively impacting student achievement.

* The district sometimes approved items in closed sessions without later announcing in an open meeting or publicly disclosing that information. There were also times when items were discussed in closed session that were not allowable under the Sunshine Law.

Members of Schweich’s auditing team will return in three months to check on any progress made on the issues raised by the original audit.

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