Metro-East News

East St. Louis school district cites progress, asks state for additional $6.5 million

East St. Louis School District 189 leaders gave a progress report to the Illinois State Board of Education on Tuesday and made their request for additional funding for the district, which is under state oversight.

Superintendent Arthur Culver asked the state board for $6.5 million in supplemental funding for the coming fiscal year.

Since the East St. Louis School District has been under state oversight via a consent decree since 2013, the district has received $38 million in this supplemental state funding.

The state board, which usually meets in Springfield or Chicago, convened its regular October meeting on Tuesday in the District 189 school boardroom. The board did not make a ruling on Culver’s request.

Culver described to the state board the type of neighborhoods District 189 children come from. He cited a Belleville News-Democrat and St. Louis Public Radio investigation earlier this year that said the chances of being murdered in East St. Louis are 19 times greater than the national average and that the national homicide rate is around 5 murders per 100,000 people while in East St. Louis, it’s 96 murders per 100,000.

“Research shows that clearly that children who live in violent communities …. that they really are akin to someone who has gone to war and is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder,” Culver told the board.

“Folks, we all know that poverty, violence and the prevalence of substance abuse … cause them to enter school at-risk and behind their peers.

“Now considering all of that, we still made progress.”

For instance, district leaders said East St. Louis High School students earned an estimated $12.9 million in scholarship money this year, up from $389,000 in 2014. Also, the district earned the AdvancED District Accreditation.

The number of elementary school students who met or exceed state testing standards has increased in recent years. In math, the number of students meeting or exceeding standards is at 10 percent, up from a 4 percent level four years ago.

The dropout rate dropped from 8 percent in 2014 to 4 percent in 2018.

The state board will continue its meeting on Wednesday and a hearing is scheduled for about noon on budget requests.

Funding sources

Most of District 189’s revenue comes from state and federal sources, according to a 26-page report the district gave the state board members Tuesday.

The state provides 69 percent of the district’s budget and the federal government provides 16 percent for a combined total of 85 percent, the report said. Local property taxes produce about 9 percent of the district’s revenue.

Culver said District 189 needs state funding because only about 9 percent of the district’s revenue comes from local property taxes.

The expected budget for the next fiscal year has projected revenue of $102.4 million with expenditures of $112.1 million for a deficit of over $9 million.

Teacher shortage

Culver told the state board members that District 189 has a constant struggle to fill teacher positions.

He said the district usually has 25 to 30 teacher vacancies at the end of each school year. Early in the school year, 10 to 12 teachers will resign between August and November, he said.

“Recruitment and retention of high quality staff is an ongoing challenge,” according to the district’s report.

“The reputation of the East St. Louis community” is a factor in causing teaching candidates to avoid District 189, according to the report.

Other factors include the benefits offered as compared to other districts, class size and salary.

Also, 36 percent of the district’s teachers miss 10 or more days per year. This is above the statewide average of 30 percent, according to the Illinois Report Card produced by the state board.

Goals set

District 189’s report to the state board listed several goals for the next fiscal year. They include:

Develop and implement hiring incentives for teachers in hard-to-fill positions such as foreign language, upper level math, science and special services.

Offer performance-based bonuses to recruit teachers.

Hire additional staff to meet the social-emotional needs of students.

Advance parent engagement services.

Local board removal

In 2012, the state school board took the extraordinary action of voting to remove the elected members of the East St. Louis school board. However, local board members filed a lawsuit to prevent their removal from office and this case was settled with a consent decree authorized by a St. Clair County judge in 2013.

Under this agreement, the East St. Louis board members could remain in office but they had to allow the state superintendent to have the final say in all decisions.

Culver was selected by the state in 2011 to be the East St. Louis superintendent and he has remained in office since then.

When the state board members voted unanimously in 2012 to remove the East St. Louis school board, they said it was done because the district had failed to meet academic standards required by the federal law for nine years.

The consent decree calls for East St. Louis to meet 12 requirements before the agreement would be terminated. The first standard calls for the board to demonstrate “professionalism, integrity and sound governance.” Other standards require the district to meet academic achievement goals and graduation rates.

Along with the consent decree, there is a state-backed Financial Oversight Panel that oversees District 189.

District 189 has about 5,400 students in 10 schools. The 2017-18 Illinois Report Card says about 83 percent of the students are from low-income families.

Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and is from St. Louis.