Knockin' 'Em Dead

Here's how the Board of Education could raise money for St. Louis schools: Charge admission to its meetings


Let the Open-Minded Dialoguing Begin

The weather is unusually warm on this November 18 evening, and so is the mood in the Carr Lane Middle School auditorium. Tonight's audience is small and uncharacteristically quiet, minus the usual hecklers.

Tom Carlson and Jennifer Silverberg
A line stretches out the door as people file through the metal detector before a Board of Education meeting at Carr Lane Middle School
Jennifer Silverberg
A line stretches out the door as people file through the metal detector before a Board of Education meeting at Carr Lane Middle School

From her seat at the center of the stage, school board president Darnetta Clinkscale promises more public participation in the decisions ahead. "We've made changes, some so quickly that members of the community didn't have time to understand why we were doing things," she concedes. "This has built walls between us. I want to hear from parents, teachers, taxpayers and, yes, children. I want them to tell us what we need to do."

"Too little, too late," chides Percy Green, a longtime civil rights activist and member of the Black Leadership Roundtable who has been an outspoken critic of the board's school-reform plan.

Board member Bob Archibald takes over and explains that he has been "soliciting advice" for the "formation of a facilitation team of community representatives to engage the community in discussion." The team, he says, will begin meeting in January.

"Who's on this facilitation team?" inquires board member Rochell Moore, who was elected in 2001.

"People who own companies who agreed to provide advice," Archibald answers.

The audience collectively groans as Archibald lists employees from Vectra and Unicom. He also mentions Richard Callow, a local PR consultant who helped get the mayor's slate elected. "And I also got advice from the mayor's office," Archibald concludes.

"To bring these names to this community -- you have insulted them," Moore charges, as she looks out over the audience. "You're bringing people to the table who have nothing to do with public education. People who have nothing to do with community activism. You didn't list Percy Green!"

"We envision thousands of people being involved," Archibald persists.

"You won't get oneperson if you don't invite members of the audience at the beginning," Moore counters. "This is what breeds hostility!"

Haas steps in to play the peacemaker, a hat that seems ill-fitting on his head.

"At the executive session," he reminds Moore, "we all committed to be open-minded to other ideas and to dialoguing."

Even the hecklers are silenced, if only for a minute, when Vince Schoemehl speaks up next. "In executive session earlier, I started with an apology to Mr. Haas and the board for my arrogant behavior that got the board off to the wrong start," he begins. "It was heavy handed, and for that I apologize. I don't know how you un-ring a bell."

"Shhhh!" scolds Moore to someone in the audience who isn't buying it.

"Shame on me for not doing better," Schoemehl continues. "We will all do our best to involve everyone."

"We always wanted to be involved!" someone shouts.

"Too little, too late," Green snorts again.

"It's never too late," board member Jackson counters gently.

At that, Haas withdraws from the agenda a resolution that would have asked Clinkscale to step down as president. Roberti commences his midterm report.

He's explaining how, for the first time ever, each department will present the board with monthly financial statements. To each board member, he passes out two bound books that detail other accomplishments: Procurement soon will be handled electronically; a new benefits plan for teachers will provide the same coverage but save the district nearly $5 million a year; a system is being developed for the accounting and distribution of textbooks.

Then Roberti repeats the theme of the evening: "We have to do more listening and heeding what people say."

"Too little, too late!" Green shouts again.

"Leave him alone!" someone screams as Charles McCrary, the district's security director, puts his hand on Green's shoulder and whispers to him.

Board members are still talking, but no one is listening to them. Green shakes his head, refusing to stand. Four St. Louis police officers are standing over him now.

"What has he done?" someone cries as the officers pull the 67-year-old Green from his seat to the floor and handcuff him.

Most of the crowd follows Green and his police escort outside to a squad car. Inside, the board has one last agenda item to dispense with.

"I make a motion to appoint Vince Schoemehl to the retirement board to fill John Mahoney's seat," Clinkscale declares. "Ms. Davis' seat we'll fill in December."

"No, that's not acceptable!" yells Byron Clemons, a journalism teacher at Gateway Institute of Technology High School. "Vince, you have no shame!"

"Why is it that only the four of you get to be in charge?" Moore asks.

The meeting is adjourned.

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