School Ties

How many city officials send their kids to city schools?

What with the ongoing soap opera that is the St. Louis Public Schools, did you ever wonder what members of the St. Louis Board of Education do with their own kids when it comes time to, you know, educate them?

We did.

So we called 'em up. "Do you have kids?" we asked, and then (after politely waiting for a response) followed up with: "If they're school-age, where do they go to school? If they've graduated, where did they go to high school?"

Turns out Ronald Jackson is the only school-board member who has ever enrolled his kids in a St. Louis public school. He's got a kid at McKinley Middle School, the city's middle school for gifted kids, and two others who've graduated. One of those two went to Metro High School, the other to Christian Brothers College High, a private Catholic school.

Veronica O'Brien's kids go to school in Clayton, courtesy of St. Louis' voluntary desegregation program. One's at Meramec Elementary, the other's at Wydown Middle School.

As for the rest, Darnetta Clinkscale sent her youngest to John Burroughs and her middle child to Brentwood High (the family lived in Brentwood at the time). Her eldest went to school in Mississippi when they lived there. Amy Hilgemann has no kids, Robert Archibald's offspring grew up outside the area, and Bill Haas' son lives with his mother and goes to school in Pattonville. Vince Schoemehl has two kids past public-school age: One went to CBC, the other to Saint Louis University High, another Catholic institution.

Seven phone calls and we weren't even winded. Or bored!

We decided to try to make the same call to 125 other St. Louis public officials, from the mayor on down to the city's supply commissioner. About two-thirds answered our questions. But the responses we got from public servants who declined to participate in our poll were edifying as well.

"I'm not going to talk to you about my children's personal lives," said Circuit Court Judge Thomas C. Grady. "They're not public officials, so I don't think it's appropriate for you to be asking. My family's been Catholic since they came to St. Louis in 1848. I don't know what your angle is on the story, but we pay our taxes, so as far as I'm concerned we support the public schools."

Beg your pardon, Tom! And now, back to the nuts and bolts.

Of those who spoke to us (including the school boarders), 26 still have kids in school*. Among that bunch: · 16 send their kids exclusively to private schools

· 4 send their kids exclusively to public schools

· 2 send their kids to public schools outside the St. Louis school district

· 4 are involved in some combination of the above three scenarios

With the 32 respondents who have kids who've already graduated, we simplified matters by asking only where the children went to high school: · 19 sent their alumni exclusively to private schools

· 7 sent the kids exclusively to public schools

· 1 sent them to public schools outside the St. Louis school district

· 5 involve some combination of the above three scenarios

There was a slight overlap here, in that seven respondents have some kids who've graduated and some still in school.

To see our data in graphic form, download this PDF (56K).

But don't go jumping to any conclusions. If the results of our survey aren't surprising, nor should they be read as an indictment of local officials who have opted out of the city's public-school system.

"From a long-haul standpoint, it would be preferable if public officials had the personal investment in the public schools as well as their professional and political responsibilities to deal with them," says Jeffrey Henig, professor of political science and education at Teacher's College, Columbia University. "But I have some sympathy toward public officials who find it necessary in dealing with their family to treat those decisions based on their assessment of what's in the best interest of their kids, and not as a symbolic affirmation of their ideals."

Public school-reform standard bearer Theodore Sizer, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, says it doesn't have to be that way. "It's interesting to look at exceptions, like New York and Boston," says Sizer. "Many magnet schools have kids of all races. Some are schools with a theme, like the Manhattan School for the Arts, which is a very sought-after art school. The notion that you can't have schools in the inner city that enroll kids from the whole socioeconomic range of city residents is wrong."

*of the rest:

· 21 didnt bother to call us back

· 2 we were unable to leave messages for

· 19 have public-information officers who failed to track down data

· 6 refused to give us the dope once they were clear about what we wanted to know

· 3 have kids too young to attend school

· 25 have no children

· 5 either lived outside St. Louis when their kids were in school or have/had kids who live/lived with a spouse outside St. Louis