By CHRIS BLANK
(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., AP) — Missouri education officials said Thursday that they will not approve expenditures for the Normandy School District’s challenge of a law requiring unaccredited school systems to pay for the transfers of students who request them.
The State Board of Education imposed financial oversight over the district in February, and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said it wasn’t notified of the costs of filing the lawsuit. The education department said it hasn’t received the lawsuit and declined to comment about its merits.
In a letter to Normandy’s superintendent, Deputy Commissioner Ron Lankford said “this action should be terminated to assure that no district funds are utilized to defray the associated costs, which violates the terms under which the State Board of Education allowed the local board of education to continue governance of the district.”
In its lawsuit, Normandy contends that the 1993 transfer law is unconstitutional and that the district cannot comply with its requirements. It was filed Wednesday in St. Louis County by the district and several residents, and it names as defendants the State Board of Education, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and 20 St. Louis-area school districts.
Normandy, which has been unaccredited since the start of 2013, encompasses 24 municipalities and unincorporated areas of St. Louis County. It has about 3,000 students and paid for roughly 1,000 students to transfer this school year. The district says about 98 percent of its students are black.
Financial strain from transfers prompted state government to approve extra funding to ensure that Normandy gets through the year.
Recent decisions by the state Supreme Court have upheld the transfer law’s requirements. Missouri lawmakers passed legislation last week seeking to revise the law. Gov. Jay Nixon has criticized a provision that could allow local tax dollars to pay for students to attend private schools.
Normandy says continuing to pay transfer costs will mean its spending will exceed its revenue, and that it couldn’t generate enough revenue even if it raised its tax rate to the maximum rate allowable. Furthermore, it says its payments to surrounding school systems have exceeded costs for educating transferring students. Normandy says that is irrational, arbitrary, discriminatory and violates due process and equal protect rights and uniformity of taxation requirements.
“Normandy School District funds and its taxpayers’ revenues are being diverted outside the District to excessively subsidize Receiving Districts,” the lawsuit states. “This has occurred without voter approval by Normandy School District residents and taxpayers.”
School district residents also contend that a requirement to pay for student transportation violates a prohibition against unfunded mandates.
Other arguments in the lawsuit include that enforcement of the transfer law disparately affects rights of black students because the requirement to pay tuition exceeding costs and transportation to other districts deprives Normandy of funds needed to educate students who don’t transfer. It says students are deprived of a fundamental right to education.
The lawsuit also seeks an order prohibiting state officials from interfering with the case by removing elected Normandy school board members, dissolving the district or trying to block funding for it.
Earlier this week, the State Board of Education approved a plan that calls for dissolving the Normandy district at the end of June and establishing a new Normandy Schools Collaborative starting July 1. That is to be governed by a board whose members are appointed by the state board.