Not all of the fireworks will be on the St. Louis riverfront this weekend.
Members of the St. Louis Board of Education were informed late Friday that a judge had ruled a week ago that the public school district cannot expect an additional $120 million it had hoped for from the state - and that, in fact, the district might even owe the state some money.
This decision means that the district faces its biggest financial crisis yet: if nothing changes, it will not be able to pay any of its bills - including payroll - by November 2007.
Here’s some history: Back in 2002 and 2003, the board (led in 2003 by president Bill Purdy) proposed a dangerous gamble: overspend revenues in 2002 and 2003, and balance the budget with reserves and money to be collected by a lawsuit against the state.
Subsequently, Bill Roberti was forced to cut millions of dollars of non-academic spending from the district’s budget to make up for the shortfall. But rising costs, including the new teacher contracts, and plummeting student enrollment still leave the district on a foundation of financial quicksand.
The district could have settled its claims with the state before the verdict was rendered. On the advice of its lawyers, it decided to gamble on a victory in court. On Friday, it learned that it had lost.
That brings us to the present: The case is lost. The board has not approved a budget for 2006-07. The district faces a $50 million deficit. The new superintendent finds his advice second-guessed and his leadership undermined by some members of the Board of Education and their constituent groups. Thousands of students have already fled to charter schools, private schools, and parochial schools - and more will leave this year.
The Board of Education has called a special meeting for July 11. Given the recent actions of some members, a solution - or even a reasonable plan - is unlikely.
* * *
(See the results of a St. Louis Business Journal poll about Dr. Creg Williams’ public schools initiatives here.)