With too many schools and too few students, leaders at St. Paul Public Schools will unveil plans to consolidate next fall next week.
The goal is to reach at least 450 students in each elementary school – three classes in each class – and 720 in middle schools, so that each school can provide a baseline of support staff as well as arts, science, talented teacher experts. education and much more.
“Often, we say that we are providing a well-rounded education, and sadly, when it comes to implementation, it is not there,” Kate Wilcox-Harris, chief educational officer at the school, told the school on Monday. Told the board.
Schools with low enrollment don’t generate enough revenue to keep their doors open, so the district regularly transfers money from high schools, officials say. He cited the example of an unnamed elementary school that brings in $1.6 million in annual revenue but costs $2.5 million to operate.
Superintendent Joe Gotthard said the district would have to close and add some schools in order to “build the schools our students deserve.”
Unless they take action, the district projects that the number of schools with fewer than 300 students will drop from 10 this year to 19 by 2024.
Chief Operating Officer Jackie Turner said, “Doing nothing is not an option.”
final close rejected
The last time the district considered closing the school was in 2016, the school board rejected the plan by a 4–3 vote, the same night they fired Valeria Silva as superintendent.
This time around, Gotthard’s administration is taking the time to prepare the board for what lies ahead. A February facilities report identified 12 schools operating at less than 70 percent capacity, and in July the district warned of the need to close some schools.
In the last two weeks, the Board has spent five hours in special public meetings to know about the works involved in the scheme.
One of the board members, Zuki Ellis, whose votes saved the Gaultier primary, has taken a skeptical posture. It allayed complaints from community members, who wonder why administrators haven’t put more resources into the school, which still had just 208 students at the end of last year.
“That’s what I hear. I have no answer,” she said.
During a forum with its supported school board candidates last week, the St. Paul’s Federation of Educators complained that the public was not involved in the district.
“How can there be equality if communities are not part of that decision-making?” Union president Leah Vandassor said.
Candidates included Clayton Howett, who was instrumental in keeping Gaultier open as a Guardian leader. He said it is “seriously disturbing” that the district wants to close schools attended by black and brown students.
“People who haven’t gone through that process don’t realize that it’s painful,” he said. “You have no control over that and it’s all about to end.”
many under reenrolled
The 2016 plan would have closed Gaultier and sent its students to Hamline Elementary. Those schools now have a combined 460 students – ideal for a three-section school.
Other elementary schools that the district calls “sustainable” are Cherokee Heights, 185 students; Highwood Hills, 226; Maxfield, 242; Dayton Bluff, 275; John A. Johnson, 275; Jackson, 288; Obama, 320; and East Heights, 338.
Middle School Parkway Montessori, there are 277 students under 720; e-STEM, 355; Hazel Park, 506; Ramsey, 586; American Indian Magnet, 600; and Murray, 676.
vote this year
The consolidation plan, called “Envision SPPS,” will be released next Tuesday. The board is expected to vote on November 16 or December 14, a month before the swearing-in of two and four new board members after the November election.
Turner said the district would not recommend any buildings be sold any time soon, and some could be converted to new uses, such as a preschool hub. She said the district now wants to be prepared to welcome some of the 16,000 St. Paul students enrolled in charter schools, private schools or neighboring districts.
Turner said the number of enrollments would be the primary consideration in deciding how to reorganize the district. Other factors include the quality of a building and its achievement level, ensuring that every neighborhood still has a district option, and protecting against disproportionately affecting certain student demographic groups.
Officials will also be mindful of district competition, which includes racially segregated charter schools, such as Hmong College Prep Academy, Community School of Excellence and Higher Ground Academy.
“They’re telling us they want to go to school with kids who look like them…[and]speak the same language,” Turner said.
Turner said the district believes in both parental choice and racial integration. Under the consolidation plan, the district wants to continue to offer schools that appeal to certain demographics as well as integrated schools.
“No matter where you live in the city, you will have a choice,” she said.