James Meeks, the new chairman of the State Board of Education, visited East St. Louis last week, but apparently he hadn’t been briefed thoroughly on the district’s history. If he knew the full story of the past two decades, he wouldn’t have been talking about the possibility of returning the district to local control.
Local control has been a disaster for the students of District 189. The elected board members were so out of control in 2012, the state moved to dissolve the board. The board members kept trying to defy the state and Superintendent Art Culver on contracts and hiring decisions. It took legal action to stop their removal.
The state took over in 2011 because students had some of the lowest test scores in the state. There was little administrative structure or planning, virtually no system of accountability, and the special education program was dysfunctional. The board had been too busy handing out consulting contracts to political cronies and getting their friends and relatives on the payroll to worry about educating students.
This was after 10 years of state financial oversight from 1994 to 2004. State leaders then thought the local board was ready to regain control. The board was ready, all right – ready to get back to self-serving business as usual. The last thing the district needs is history repeating itself.
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The fact that schools are making modest gains is no reason for the state to start talking about leaving. It took years for the state to intervene. It’s important to keep building on the foundation taking shape so students will get an adequate education in the future.
Everyone needs to stay focused on what students need rather than what the politicians of East St. Louis want.