- St. Louis’ Wilkinson School has been closed since 2008, but a new plan could repurpose the now-empty building as affordable housing marketed primarily to teachers.
- The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the district has contracted with buyers interested in turning its empty school buildings into senior living facilities and community centers, but this would be the first time it tries to create affordable housing for its staff members.
- With new teachers among the lowest-paid college graduates, the district sees value in creating affordable options, especially in a city where rent increases have outpaced income growth in recent years.
Many school districts have faced depopulation and competition from charter schools that take students out of their schools, leaving them with expensive buildings to maintain. If districts can get those properties into new hands, they can limit their responsibility for upkeep and help create new draws in communities. While nostalgia factors into community opposition to closing schools, the argument about how empty school buildings negatively impact neighborhoods is compelling.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for repurposing these buildings as affordable housing for teachers is the retention opportunities the plan presents. New teachers do not get high salaries and if they don’t stay in the profession very long, they also don’t benefit from generous pension benefits. Of course, some states are cutting back on teacher pensions and asking teachers to pay more into them. The turnover in the profession contributes to the teacher shortage, and some experts say progress with retention could actually solve the problem altogether. Affordable housing will surely tempt some teachers to St. Louis over arguably easier placements elsewhere.