Empty Hallways

Around 27 public schools in St. Louis poverty stricken neighborhoods have been shut down for as long as 10 years, creating major issues in the community in addition to sending the children of that community further for school. With schools opening back up for the fall, we examined why school’s close their doors and the negative effects those school closures can have on the community.

Eliot School: 1898-2004

Why School’s Close Their Doors

When looking at schools closures, one must first look at the reasons why schools close. It all falls on the how many people live in a district’s community. Funding for schools is provided through a combination of property taxes (taxes paid on your house) as well as state and federal funding based on how many students go to school in the district. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, state and local funding covers approximately 93% of the money that schools get.These funds usually come from property taxes that are set by local governments. This is a chunk of money  from each occupied house the community.

Imagine that there are 10 houses in a neighborhood, and each gives $1.00 in taxes. If all 10 houses are lived in, the school will get $10 to pay its bills. 

But if only 4 houses are lived in, then the school only gets $4 to pay the same bills.

In this way, the property taxes in your community determine if you get those new desks you need or the textbooks for that english class you have to take.  

St. Louis City has experienced a huge population loss over the past few decades. This population loss has been fueled mostly by a trend called “white flight,” where a vast number of white homeowners leave urban areas for the county. This trend has be profound in the Saint Louis area. Since 1950, St. Louis City has lost more than half  of its population. From 2000 to 2010, there was a 13.9% drop in the Baden area population, 17.74% drop in population in Fountain Park, and a 28.7% drop in population in Hyde Park.

Baden School: 1908-2009

As population declines, so too does the property value, making neighborhoods become less and less popular to move into, and hurting school enrollment. As this goes on, the school district can’t keep as many as schools open, particularly in neighborhoods with significant population and property decline. This results in clubs and afterschool programs being canceled, critical services like social workers and nurses being laid off, and the inevitable closure of schools in less populated areas.

We looked at schools in neighborhoods like Baden (Baden Elementary) with an average home value of  $49,300 and Hyde Park  (Eliot Elementary) with an average home value of $46,602 ,which is nearly half the St.Louis Property value at $96,800. Both of these areas have vacant schools in their community. Compare these numbers to the city of Clayton, which has an average home value of $631,484 (more expensive than 99.8% of neighborhoods in Missouri) and noticeably, no closed schools in their community. Another part of the county, Creve Coeur, has no closed down schools in the area, and their average home value is $392,761.

In neighborhoods, like Baden and Hyde park, trends like these made it almost impossible for local schools to stay open.  “As students have left for the suburbs and charter schools, the district’s student population has fallen from its peak of 115,543 in 1967 to about 26,000 this year” (Crouch, 2015). With so many people leaving the city, the public school districts like Saint Louis Public Schools can’t maintain a full district of schools, particularly in low-income neighborhoods where properties are often vacant and populations are low.

Euclid School: 1893-2007

Schools Keep Neighborhoods Together

Being in school broadens the perspective of an individual and shows him or her that there is great opportunity at hand if they take advantage of it.  School isn’t only a place of education. Parents and schools share an important responsibility: to instill core values and a code of conduct that defines the values of the community. In this way, schools become a home away from home. When a school closes, children who are apart of that district lose their second household. The teachers that they grew to love, friends who they caught the bus with, and the halls they found so familiar changed, eroding important social foundations in a child’s life. Thomas A. Lyson of Cornell University states, “schools, churches, volunteer fire departments, and other civic institutions serve to solidify and define community boundaries.” So as schools disappear, so do the institutions that comprise community centers, splintering the community by dispersing children and families to unknown communities. Without these institutions, neighborhoods are far more prone to collapse. Like a person without a backbone left as a shape with no structure, neighborhoods without schools become misshapen,  and struggle to stand on their own.

The map below is interactive. Click on a school to see an image and its lifespan. 

Educational institutions like Eliot, Baden, and Euclid have transformed from learning places to temporary homes for the homeless and large canvases for graffiti artists. Now, the battered and bruised communities have suffered the full blow of a empty school yard. With the absence of togetherness in the community, parents look toward other locations to send their children for better education. The power of economic and social foundation that schools possess can change the dynamic of a community if it closes it doors. Just as school is instrumental to the success of an individual, so too are schools to the community.  Schools are often the heart of a community, providing the necessary resources for growth and success for future generations.When it shuts down, the vital functions that rely on it begins to slowly deteriorate, leaving the community unable to function at its full capacity. If this trend continues, the community will only get worse, ultimately leaving it in a irreparable condition.

Clark School: 1907-2009

Written by Dominique Shields, Najee Person and Myles Bastain

Photos and Illustrations by Najee Person and Andrew Johnson