Washington School District officials are pleased the governor has vetoed a bill that would have let some students living in the St. Albans area attend a different district.

The legislation would have affected only the areas of St. Albans in Franklin County, St. Elizabeth in Miller County and Gravois Mills in Morgan County.

Under the measure, families in these specific communities would have been allowed to enroll their children in a different district if they live at least 17 miles from the school they are supposed to attend and another district is 7 miles closer.

In the St. Albans case, the Rockwood School District in West St. Louis County would be the closer in terms of miles for middle school and high school.

Superintendent Responds

Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer told The Missourian she is very pleased that Gov. Jay Nixon has recognized the numerous issues surrounding the legislation.

“We can’t put into law special circumstances for select families in particular communities,” she said. “When we buy homes, we all must do our research and make a personal decision regarding where we want to live and attend school.”

VanLeer also pointed out that state funding varies from district to district.

“To ask a school district to pay tuition for students to attend another school system doesn’t work under our state’s current financial structure,” she said.

“I believe we have a great district,” she added, and we want the best for our students. Many of our students live on the fringes of our attendance boundaries. This issue is not new or unique.”

Unfunded Mandate

In rejecting the bill, Nixon said the transfer bill would have imposed an unfunded mandate on some rural school districts that would have had to pay tuition for departing students — in violation of the Hancock Amendment — and deviates from an established statewide process in three specific communities.

The governor also said existing law already established a “reasoned process” by which a student can be reassigned to another school district if he or she faces an unreasonable transportation hardship.

In the Washington School District, six students were granted hardship waivers this past year to attend the Rockwood School District due to long travels. However those waivers were granted under the previous year’s route data and the district then added a special bus route to address the issue. Additional students who then sought a waiver were denied.

The six students who did receive the waivers this past year will have to reapply and will likely be denied since the travel time has been reduced.

VanLeer said it was those families who pushed for the legislation and they got a lot of help from State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, who handled the legislation in the Missouri Senate.

Nieves Unhappy

Nieves in a release to the media expressed “disappointment and utter disgust” of the governor’s veto.

During debate, Sen. Nieves informed his colleagues that there are young children having to get on a bus at a very early hour and then not get home until very late in the afternoon. He said this is unfair to all families, particularly low-income families who cannot afford the gas and travel expenses associated with getting students to and from extracurricular activities.

“It’s just plain wrong to have to put little Susie Pigtails, age 5, on a school bus so early in the morning and not see her again until very late in the afternoon,” said Nieves, who believes the governor chose education bureaucrats over students and families.

Cory Kraft, a parent at St. Albans, said he was disappointed by the veto, noting that opposition came mainly from school administrators. Kraft said that Nixon “has more interest in making his superintendents happy and less interest in taking care of kids.”

Kraft, who lives in the Washington School District, has two daughters whose tuition in Rockwood schools has been provided by the Washington district under the state-approved transportation hardship.

Board Pleased

At a special meeting Thursday morning on the budget, Washington School Board members expressed relief that the measure was rejected.

“This is good news, great news actually,” said board member Scott Byrne. “I think we still need to be cautious that it doesn’t get overturned . . . but it would have been a real hardship for us.”

Board member Brian Sumner agreed, saying passage of the bill was a “huge, huge concern” and would have adversely impacted the budget.