Francis Howell, Normandy Controversy: Should School Boards Have Power to Veto Transfers?

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State Rep. Mark Parkinson. - VIA
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  • State Rep. Mark Parkinson.

If you needed further proof that tensions surrounding the Francis Howell-Normandy school-transfer controversy are boiling over, look no further than the recent war of words between State Rep. Mark Parkinson and Francis Howell School Board member Mark Lafata.

Parkinson, a St. Charles Republican lawmaker, says he is considering introducing legislation next session that would allow the Francis Howell School Board to have "veto power" to effectively block Normandy, the unaccredited district, from sending over its students to the higher-performing schools. Parkinson, however, says that the proposal -- a version of which he has drafted -- is mainly a way to draw attention to the "childish behavior" of Lafata at a Francis Howell town-hall forum.

"As you can probably tell, I don't deal with bullies very well," Parkinson says in a nearly 2,000-word e-mail he sent out last week, slamming Lafata and outlining his proposed legislation. His full commentary is on view below.

The feud between Parkinson and Lafata is the latest controversy in the school transfer debate, which has riled up parents, educators and lawmakers from both districts over the last month.

A quick recap: The Missouri Supreme Court ruled last month that children living in unaccredited school districts -- such as Normandy -- may transfer to higher-performing schools in the same or adjoining counties. The ruling said that school systems that are unaccredited, which means they are underperforming, must pay tuition bills for the transfers as well as transportation to at least one alternative school district.

Normandy chose to send its students to Francis Howell, sparking an outcry from some parents of the Francis Howell district, who said they were concerned about funding, class size, safety and more. The debate has touched on racial tensions, given that Normandy schools are predominantly black and Francis Howell students are mostly white. Supporters of the transfer option argue that Normandy students deserve a chance to access a better education.

Normandy School District - VIA FACEBOOK / NORMANDY

Lafata cast blame at a recent town-hall meeting on lawmakers who failed to fix this issue at the legislative level.

Parkinson, who has been vocally opposed to the transfer of Normandy students to Francis Howell, was not pleased.

"We as legislators were publicly rebuked in front of 2500+ of our neighbors. That's fine, we knew we were walking into an ambush, we put ourselves in that position," he says in his lengthy e-mail.

The legislative fix that he believes Lafata was pushing for -- that school boards have the authority to veto transfers -- is not one Lafata would actually want, Parkinson argues.

State Rep. Mark Parkinson. - VIA MARKPARKINSON.COM

"As the saying goes, be very careful of what you ask for, sometimes you just might get it," Parkinson writes.

His argument is that if the school board did have the veto power, members would be facing a lose-lose scenario, by which rejection of the transfers would mean bad press, but acceptance of the transfers would mean angry Francis Howell constituents:

If you vote to reject the Normandy children the editorials and headlines write themselves, each and every one of you will be branded a racist.

If you vote to accept the Normandy children, we all know what that means in your next election.

Parkinson says he is considering legislation to allow the veto power, essentially to corner Lafata and other school board members into acknowledging that lawmakers are not at fault here and that the school board would not want this option.

His e-mail says:

Did I have the bill drafted, yes, is it tongue and cheek, ABSOLUTELY!

I will back down on this issue only if and when Mark LaFata issues the entire St. Charles County delegation a public apology (in writing and verbal) for his childish behavior at the Francis Howell town hall forum, specifically, for rebuking us publicly for not providing him with the "fix" he so desperately covets. Even though the "fix" would have benefitted no one other than himself.

"The best resolution for the children in the Normandy School District as well as their parents is to get Normandy School District on track and back to accreditation status," Parkinson says in a follow-up chat with Daily RFT. "Ultimately, it's the adults in the Normandy School District that have failed the children. If Normandy hadn't lost their accreditation, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

He says that the long transportation time for students in Normandy will be burdensome for them.

He adds, "What I support is giving the Normandy School District the tools necessary to dig themselves out of this hole as quickly as possible."

Continue for response from Mark Lafata and for Rep. Parkinson's full e-mail and proposed legislation.

VIA FACEBOOK

For his part, Lafata tells Daily RFT that he has no idea why Parkinson thinks he was being singled out. "My comments were collectively to all of the St. Charles representatives.... Why he thinks they are directed at him...and why he is going in the direction he is going is beyond me."

He adds that he is doubtful Parkinson would have any success with this kind of bill. "I'm not even holding my breath that he could get anything passed."

Further, the veto option is not a good answer, he says.

"It offers no solution.... It doesn't fix the problem," Lafata says. "It would just leave Normandy students hanging."

Lafata adds, "Legislators need to talk to school personnel, administrators and local school board members to craft a bill that will not only resolve the issue...but keep the issue from coming up."

Here's Parkinson's full e-mail, including his proposed legislation.

Last Thursday evening The Francis Howell School Board held a town hall forum to discuss the impending transfer of students from the Normandy School District to the Francis Howell School District with the public. We, the State Representatives and Senators from St. Charles County, asked the Francis Howell School Board for a place at the table (it was our mistake that we didn't make the ask public). We wanted the opportunity to address the publics questions and concerns while siting along side the school board. A discussion amongst the School Board members took place and our request was denied. They, in turn, reserved a portion of the front row for us.

About half way through the town hall meeting Mark LaFata got up out of his seat, walked around the table, stood directly in front of us and blamed the entire situation on us. Mr. LaFata publicly told the crowd (2500+ people) that the reason the Francis Howell School District is in the situation it is is because we did "nothing". That "nothing" he was referring to was not taking up and passing H.B. 514 in 2011.

http://house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills111/biltxt/intro/HB0514I.htm

Click the link and read the bill, H.B. 514, as introduced by Rep. Margo McNeil, would have given the Francis Howell School Board (or any other receiving school board) carte blanch veto power over the sending, unaccredited school district. H.B. 514, as written is an all or nothing approach.

We knew beforehand (we discussed it) that we were walking into an ambush, but how would the public have perceived us had we not shown up?

Later that evening I drafted the following email to the members of the Francis Howell School Board (amongst others)...

Subject: HB 514...

To members of the FHSB member, for the rest of you this is food for thought.

It's abundantly clear that we, as the St. Charles County delegation, are being blamed for not passing Rep. Margo McNeil's "fix" to the Normandy school transfer issue. That's fine, blame, wag your finger, publicly throw a fit, do what you have to do to make yourselves feel better.

Let's assume we passed HB 514 in 2011 and play out the policy implications in today's situation.

HB 514 would give the receiving school district veto power over the sending, unaccredited district. Lets also assume that the Normandy School Board makes the same decision to send their students to FH.

The next logical step for you, as the elected school board, to take is to have a public vote on the acceptance/non-acceptance of poor, minority, children from a failed school district that are looking to you as their only hope of breaking the chains of poverty through an excellent education.

At that board meeting, each of your names are called, and you have to cast a public vote on the issue.

Look yourselves in the mirror and ask yourselves, do you vote your constituency and vote to reject the Normandy students or do you vote to allow them to attend FH?

If you vote to reject the Normandy children the editorials and headlines write themselves, each and every one of you will be branded a racist.

If you vote to accept the Normandy children, we all know what that means in your next election.

Assuming HB 514 was the law of the land today, you as FHSB members are put in a lose-lose situation. Do you want that?

When we go back in session we can give you exactly what you asked for (HB 514) and put each and every one of you in a lose-lose situation or we can work as a united front and ensure that ALL Missouri students receive the same excellent education as I did from FHHS.

As the saying goes, be very careful of what you ask for, sometimes you just might get it.

That's just food for thought, but I would like a response from each FHSB member on how you would like us to proceed on policy language as exactly written in HB 514.

I'm assume Mr. did not play out the real-world senecio, stated above, of actually implementing HB 514 on your respective school board positions or he wouldn't have advocated for it so vehemently. I could be wrong!

Sincerely, Mark Parkinson

As you can tell from my email above, the "fix" he (Mark Lafata) so publicly wanted was actually no "fix" at all. We as legislators were publicly rebuked in front of 2500+ of our neighbors. That's fine, we knew we were walking into an ambush, we put ourselves in that position.

I asked for their guidance on the issue, specifically where they would like us to go on the issue concerning H.B. 514, and I received a response concerning H.B. 514 from one of them. From the rest of the board members...nothing but silence. I did receive subsequent emails from other board members on topics other than which I asked for their guidance.

That brings us to this evening. During the "public comment" period at this evenings Francis Howell School Board Meeting I stood at the podium and read the email I sent the board verbatim. I then told the public that I only received guidance, on this exact issue, from one of the school board members (Mr. LaFata was not the member that replied). Any of them could have easily responded to my request and told me that they understand the issue better, had not thought of the "real world" position they would be in, and H.B. 514 was not the simple "fix" they thought is was. I received nothing to the contrary; therefor I could only assume that they wanted to be put in that lose-lose situation so I ran with it.

As I stated in my email to them, "As the saying goes, be very careful of what you ask for, sometimes you just might get it.

I had the following bill drafted (also, see attached):

ROUGH DRAFT NO. 1 AN ACT To repeal section 167.131, RSMo, and to enact in lieu thereof one new section relating to school district enrollment.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF MISSOURI, AS FOLLOWS:

Section A. Section 167.131, RSMo, is repealed and one new section enacted in lieu thereof, to be known as section 167.131, to read as follows:

167.131. 1. The board of education of each district in this state that does not maintain an accredited school pursuant to the authority of the state board of education to classify schools as established in section 161.092 shall pay the tuition of and provide transportation consistent with the provisions of section 167.241 for each pupil resident therein who attends an accredited school in another district of the same or an adjoining county.

2. The rate of tuition to be charged by the district attended and paid by the sending district is the per pupil cost of maintaining the district's grade level grouping which includes the school attended. The cost of maintaining a grade level grouping shall be determined by the board of education of the district but in no case shall it exceed all amounts spent for teachers' wages, incidental purposes, debt service, maintenance and replacements. The term "debt service", as used in this section, means expenditures for the retirement of bonded indebtedness and expenditures for interest on bonded indebtedness. Per pupil cost of the grade level grouping shall be determined by dividing the cost of maintaining the grade level grouping by the average daily pupil attendance. If there is disagreement as to the amount of tuition to be paid, the facts shall be submitted to the state board of education, and its decision in the matter shall be final. Subject to the limitations of this section, each pupil shall be free to attend the public school of his or her choice.

3. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection 2 of this section to the contrary, no school or school district with an enrollment of sixteen thousand five hundred to seventeen thousand five hundred students whose primary residence is located within the boundaries of the school district, with its headquarters located in a county with a charter form of government and with more than three hundred thousand but fewer than four hundred fifty thousand inhabitants, shall be required to enroll any pupil whose primary residence is not located within the boundaries of the school district.

Sections one and two are current law and section three is what I had drafted. As you can see, the language does the exact same thing as H.B. 514 does, but is crafted narrowly enough that the Francis Howell School Board is the only school district in the state that has veto power over the sending, unaccredited district.

I then looked Mr. LaFata in the eye and stated that I have a commitment from the chairman of the House Education Committee that this bill will be presented in committee during the first two weeks of session. I then told him as a caveat to my presenting the bill he will have to personally show up and publicly testify that he wants to be put in this lose-lose situation.

I want him to show up to committee and publicly state that he wants this brought upon himself! I then reminded him that he has to look at the bigger picture. He is an at-large board member, as our representative, any vote he casts has the potential to cast our entire community in a negative light.

I specifically told him that there would be a seat reserved for him in the front row of that committee room with a reserved sign on it bearing his name and if that seat remains empty I will take a picture of it, implying that he, himself, had the opportunity to "fix" the problem and he chose to do "nothing!"

As you can probably tell, I don't deal with bullies very well.

As reported via news outlets, Mr. LaFata was asked about this issue and he stated, "I have no idea what he (me) is talking about." If that is the case, why did he state publicly this evening that he did respond to my email. He did respond but his reply was off topic and he never broached the topic on which I asked for his guidance.

Did I have the bill drafted, yes, is it tongue and cheek, ABSOLUTELY!

I will back down on this issue only if and when Mark LaFata issues the entire St. Charles County delegation a public apology (in writing and verbal) for his childish behavior at the Francis Howell town hall forum, specifically, for rebuking us publicly for not providing him with the "fix" he so desperately covets. Even though the "fix" would have benefitted no one other than himself.

Sincerely, Mark

Mark A. Parkinson State Representative- District 105 Missouri House of Representatives

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