The Webster Groves School District Board of Education in pondering a proposal to provide its pre-kindergarten special education program in-house rather than having the Special School District do it.

At the board’s meeting on Dec. 10, Walter Ambrose Family Center Director Mary Baker said a divorce from Special School District in pre-kindergarten would give the district much more freedom.

“There is a lot more latitude in how school district staff is used,” Baker said, noting a decision should be made in January if the board wanted to do it for the next school year.

Fourteen of the 22 St. Louis County school districts use Special School District services for the program, while eight do it themselves. A state grant would cover the approximately $1.1 million cost, but the district would have to apply for reimbursement the year after it spends the money. That means that the first year the district would have to pay $1 million up front and would never really get that money back.

The proposed change would allow for local decision making, more flexible staffing and programming, Baker said.

Board Member Arnold Stricker, a parent and a former parent from the Walter Ambrose Family Center, urged caution during this week’s school board meeting.

“I would like to see some of the hard data,” Stricker said adding he would like to hear from people who have separated from Special School District.

Karen Tilford, the PTO president at Walter Ambrose Center, told the board that she hasn’t seen any research about the proposed change, and that parents have not been notified about this.

Tilford said she is worried that a lot of teachers from Special School District at the center wouldn’t come back as teachers working for the Webster Groves School District.

Elizabeth Fox, who formerly was a parent at Walter Ambrose, said that Special School District isn’t perfect, but that people move into St. Louis County to receive its services.

“I want you to perform due diligence,” she said.

Options for More Space

Also, the district is looking for comment on the two final options it is considering to provide more space and safety for elementary students.

Under one option, the district would build additions at Hixson Middle School to allow sixth graders to attend that school. The middle school is now for seventh and eighth graders, and sixth graders now attend the Steger Sixth Grade Center. Steger and the Givens Elementary School would be converted either to a single neighborhood school or one neighborhood school and a second specialized school like Givens is now.

Under a second option, the district would add an eight-classroom addition at the Edgar Road Elementary School and six more classrooms at Clark Elementary School.

Details of the plans are in an advertisement the district is placing in this issue of the Webster-Kirkwood Times. The board is scheduled to receive receives recommendations from the building and finance advisory committees on Jan 5.

The board will make a decision by Jan. 14, said district Chief Communications Officer Cathy Vespereny.

Those who want to make a comment may call 314-918-4448 or email