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On Friday, February 13, 2015, the CEAM team ventured out into the city to explore the vacant school buildings currently for sale by the St. Louis Public School District. One of the topics being discussed surrounding the student transfer debate was the idea to require any public school district in which a public charter school can be operated, to sell their vacant buildings at market value to public charter schools if they so request. These building have already been paid for and are still being maintained by taxpayers and one of the biggest obstacles for public charter schools is finding and paying for facilities. Currently in Missouri, public charter schools do not receive additional funding from the state for facilities unlike public school districts who have bonding authority and can ask taxpayers for help in paying for new buildings.
The topic of public charter schools using vacant buildings prompted CEAM to do some research. On our trip we not only looked at the school buildings themselves, but also the neighborhoods in which they were located. We saw how many of the buildings had fallen into disrepair with broken windows and tall grass, weeds, and trash in the school yard. We walked through the neighborhoods and knocked on doors to talk with residents about their thoughts and what they would like to see happen to these vacant school buildings. Most people we spoke to were excited about the idea and wanted to see the vacant buildings put to use. Some even offered up ideas for possible new uses for the buildings such as schools, homeless shelters, churches, and more. No matter what the building would be used for, residents just want to see them being used again.
In the past, vacant school buildings in St. Louis have been repurposed into senior apartments and current proposals for buildings include market rate apartments and an industrial building. Along the way we took photos, videos, and asked the people we spoke with to write a few words about how they felt.
Our research that we gathered that day, was then shared with legislators to show how valuable using vacant buildings could be for the city. We wanted to show them how the residents felt about the issue and provide a point of reference on the number of vacant school buildings and their effect on the neighborhoods they reside in and the residents of those neighborhoods.
“I live directly across from Banneker and would love to see children playing in the yard again. This was the very first school I attended in the 50s and it’s an historic building. Please allow a charter school to use this building.” -Mark Shahid
“We would love to see better use of the buildings in our neighborhood. Charter schools have a lot to offer in terms of extensive education. Reusing structures already in place can help eliminate budgetary constraints in the way of offering a better education to our neighborhoods.” -Tiffany and Michael Dees
Currently, there are 22 school buildings for sale by the St. Louis Public School District throughout St. Louis City with most of those buildings located in North City.
A few weeks after our field trip, ABC news aired this program on the Allman Report highlighting many of the same conclusions: Taxpayer Waste Alert: Deserted Public School Still Maintained With Your Tax Money.