JEFFERSON CITY - The political landscape of the state's school desegregation issue changed dramatically Thursday when two St. Louis city lawmakers called for gutting the powers of the city's school board.
Calling the St. Louis school system in a "vegetative state," Sen. Bill Clay, D-St. Louis, proposed transferring the board's powers to a panel appointed by the mayor.
"We have to stop the bleeding somewhere," said Clay, who offered his proposal to the joint committee looking at ways to resolve court-ordered school desegregation. "My proposal in effect pulls the plug. I guess we're starting over, to build some semblance of a quality system."
The plan was endorsed by the other black St. Louis lawmaker on the committee, Rep. Quincy Troupe, D-St. Louis. Like Clay, Troupe charged the quality of education had eroded in the city.
"We've served notice on the school board and parasites who do business with the school board that they'll be held accountable," Troupe said. "We've lost two generations of kids. The school system has serious problems. The only way we're going to fix it is clean it up and start over."
The proposal came one day after the city's school superintendent and some board members told a special legislative committee that they needed more money to run the city's schools.
Clay's proposal would give the mayor, Clarence Harmon, authority to appoint a new seven-member oversite panel that would have complete control, including financial, over the city's school system.
Under Clay's plan, a new panel would be appointed for five years by the mayor, after which the members would stand for election within their respective districts. Clay said the panel would also elect a C.E.O. The recommendation would be just one part of the education-reform package the committee is drafting for the legislature to vote on in spring.
While exact details still need to be worked out, the current school board, which is elected, would serve in an "advisory capacity" to the new panel, Clay said.
The legislative committee was appointed this summer to devise a plan to end court-ordered desegregation. An out-of-court settlement will end state desegregation aid to Kansas City in July, 1999. No settlement has been reached in St. Louis, where a court-ordered mediation board is trying to reach a consensus. The state of Missouri has spent more than $3 billion on desegregation as a result of federal court-orders.
Sen. Ted House, D-St. Louis County, co-chairman of the committee, said that testimony by the school board members and superintendent earlier in the week showed the board was "unable to educate children in the school district within reasonable means" and that it had an "unwillingness to try to do so."
"They told us yesterday (Wednesday) they can't educate kids for less than $9,500 per student," House said. "That's outrageous. They can educate kids for less than that."