In 2004, Bill Roberti told a group of national educators that the St. Louis Public Schools system was “so dysfunctional that it was on the brink of bankruptcy.”
Roberti was a self-described corporate turnaround expert who’d been hired by the city’s elected school board to fix a troubled system. Unfortunately, Roberti didn’t know what he was talking about, as current school board president Peter Downs details in an illuminating report titled “This is reform?” (either click on the title or go to the link at the right-hand side of this page).
Roberti and the former board were able to act with impunity, Downs shows, because they had the support of powerful interests in St. Louis, including Mayor Francis Slay and the city’s only daily newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Rather than turning things around, the private management firm accelerated the school system’s decline.
In 1980, FOCUS/Midwest applauded court-ordered desegregation of St. Louis schools, but, as Downs points out, the desegregation plan that was adopted helped cripple city schools and city neighborhoods.
Rather than address the underlining inequity that continues to favor white-majority suburban districts, the city administration and its corporate allies instead sought quick fixes.
Downs’ analysis provides a cautionary tale for those who trumpet private-sector solutions to community problems.