State Supreme Court judges are being asked to decide whether the state overstepped its authority when it declared the St. Louis School District was unaccredited and replaced its elected school board with an appointed transitional board.
A St. Louis School Board attorney has argued before the court that both the legislature and the State School Board exceeded their authority in stripping the St. Louis School District of accreditation and then taking over control.
It’s a contention that intrigues the court as evidenced by the questions judges asked during oral arguments Tuesday from both the St. Louis School Board and the state Attorney General’s office, which is defending the action of the state.
St. Louis School Board lawyer Ken Broston asked the court to rule the transfer of power from the elected school board to the appointed, transitional board invalid, contending the action deprives St. Louis voters their rights and replaces duly elected board members. Broston argued that the school board members have the right to hold office for the entirety of their term, rather than be replaced through appointment by state government. He insisted the newly elected school board members have been removed without a hearing and without proof they have done anything wrong.
The argument prompted a response from Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith.
"You’re saying you could never take away authority from an elected board member, constitutionally, because you would be depriving voters of being governed by the people who they voted into office," Stith told Broston during oral arguments.
At the heart of the case is a senate bill approved in 1998. SB 781 didn’t just end the St. Louis School desegregation lawsuit, it outlined the procedures used by the State School Board to find the St. Louis district no longer met state accreditation standards and to replace the elected school board with a state appointed school board.
Broston is also asking the court to declare SB 781 unconstitutional. He stated that the General Assembly has no right to override the will of the people of St. Louis who elected the school board members who have been replaced.
"Then the question I suppose is whether or not the legislature can fashion what is in effect a receivership remedy for the entity," surmised Judge Michael Wolff.
Assistant Attorney General Paul Wilson responded in defense of the state that the St. Louis School District understood fully the ramifications of SB 781. Wilson said district officials not only were involved with the drafting of the legislation, but were fully aware that an appointed board would replace the elected board if the school district lost accreditation.
Wilson contended the St. Louis School Board now is reneging on the contract it accepted in 1998.
That brought a swift response from Stith who told Wilson, "But this (the lawsuit) isn’t here as a contract dispute. It’s here as constitutional issue."
The court will issue a ruling later.