My office is in the Historic Courthouse overlooking the Missouri River in St. Charles. I have explained to people for years that I look out my window to view St. Louis County across the river and ask myself, “What do we have to do in St. Charles County to duplicate St. Louis County’s successes and avoid its failures?” Events in Ferguson have highlighted several of those failures, causing me to ask, “What are the lessons of Ferguson for St. Charles County?”
The most important lesson is that poor socioeconomic conditions place a tremendous burden on school districts and police departments. St. Charles County has been fortunate to have neighborhoods and cities that welcome families of all levels of income, and we need to continue many of the trends in planning and zoning established over the last 40 years to maintain this standard of living. In addition, instead of 91 municipalities like St. Louis County, St. Charles County has six cities large enough to have professional police departments and planning departments.
As a result, the notorious “Delmar Divide” in the City of St. Louis does not extend to St. Charles County as it has to St. Louis County. When you extend the division line through St. Louis County and into St. Charles County you have nearly the same number of single family residences and condominium on each side of the line in St. Charles County (see maps and charts below). While not as pronounced as in the City of St. Louis, significant discrepancies in housing values on either side of that line also exist in St. Louis County.
In St. Charles County, the story is different. Although the median home south of the line in our county costs $40,000 more, most of the difference is due to the size of the homes. If you look at the cost per square foot of the median home in each section, there is very little difference. If you look at housing values by municipality, there is little difference between the top five, all of which have neighborhoods for all income levels.
Due to this fact, each school district has “pockets of poverty” within their boundaries, and as a result no one district is overwhelmed by the challenges this creates. One of those problems, apparent in some St. Louis County school districts, is attendance. For example, while 93% of the students in the Francis Howell District attend 90% of the time, only 65% of the students in the Normandy School District attend 90% of the time. Attendance for all of the St. Charles County school districts is above 89%, so attendance is not a district-wide problem anywhere, but it is a problem in certain neighborhoods for certain schools. St. Charles County has no individual school attendance scores below 78%, while St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis combined have 47 schools below 78%, with the lowest being 31.2%.
Again, unlike Ferguson with 58 crimes per 1,000, crime rates in police jurisdictions in St. Charles County range from 12 to 28 per thousand. As a result, each of our seven police departments in the county is dealing with a part of the problem and none is overly burdened. We need to keep it that way.
Click on the graphics below to view the maps and charts in PDF format.