"To say that they spent money like drunken sailors is an insult to drunken sailors everywhere."
Two interesting events took place in the St. Louis public school district this week. First, Cleveland Hammonds Jr., retired as superintendent of schools after seven years. He left behind a massive budget deficit and a district that remains only partially accredited by the state. At the same time, a New York financial management firm said that budget cuts and overspending in the district created a $90 million deficit with no remaining reserves. In fact, the district has gone through $51 million in reserves in the past three years alone and may be unable to meet normal payroll.
On Hammonds retirement, he touted the accomplishments in the district which include a dropout rate reduction and some small improvements in test scores. But Hammonds was less talkative about the financial crisis facing the schools. And my concern - and it should be yours - is that the state will soon be forced to come up with a substantial infusion of money just to keep the school district up and running. Where those funds will come from is anyone's guess.
The new administration in the schools will surely cut staff and close schools. There are few remaining options. But Hammonds says the changes will not come overnight. He says the budget woes hit when the economy was in decline and a new teacher contract increased salaries by over $10 million this year. He pushed aside charges of mismanagement. And perhaps he's right.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay saw the report from the New York firm and said he was "shocked and angry. To say that they spent money like drunken sailors is an insult to drunken sailors everywhere." That has to be the quote of the century.
I am by no means an expert on public education especially when it comes to the urban schools. I understand that their tax base has eroded and high concentrations of low income residents make additional tax opportunities slim. But I do know that in the end someone will have to come to the rescue of the St. Louis schools. And I strongly suspect that means higher taxes for all Missourians. At this point it matters little about the issue of mismanagement or overspending or anything else. The problem is here, it is real and the solution will be costly. You can figure it out from there.