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Governor Calls Plan Innovative

November 13, 1997
By: Margaret Murphy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Mel Carnahan has voiced support, but not out-right endorsement, for a plan to strip the power of the St. Louis School Board and have the mayor appoint an oversight panel.

Carnahan termed the proposal "innovative." The voters, the governor told reporters Wednesday, hold the mayor accountable for the state of the city's schools.

"The condition of schools is always an issue in the St. Louis mayor's race," Carnahan said. "Technically, the St. Louis mayor has very little control to make it (the schools) better or worse. It may be logical in that setting to put some of the control over with the mayor."

The proposal, offered by Sen. William Clay, D-St. Louis, would allow St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon to appoint a seven-member oversight panel that would serve for five years before running for election. The current board would serve only in an advisory capacity.

Clay announced his idea at a hearing last week of a joint House-Senate committee that is trying to draft legislation on desegregation and school finance issues. Clay said the St. Louis public schools were in a "near-vegetative state."

The day before Clay announced his proposal, St. Louis school superintendent Cleveland Hammonds Jr. and three school board members told the committee they needed an additional $50 million a year from the state, plus another $700 million for capital improvements if busing ends. Currently city students may voluntarily transfer to county schools.

Carnahan said the court's current control of the schools is "not a long-term solution" and precludes local control over school issues.

"We're looking for fresh ideas to help get through the impasse on this whole issue," Carnahan said. "This may be one that is useful in helping us to get through to an ultimate solution."

Carnahan said he would need to see the exact details of Clay's plan and the final committee report before he signed off on them. The committee has held hearings across the state to elicit public comment. It hopes to issue a final report by Dec. 15 and draft a bill for the entire General Assembly to debate next spring, said Sen. Ted House, D-St. Louis County, chairman of the committee.