District alters plan for St. Paul schools

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 2, 2011 - 5:56 PM

School superintendent Valeria Silva unveiled changes to make redistricting more acceptable to majority.

St. Paul school officials made several changes Tuesday to a drastic district restructuring proposal that they said will cut $10 million in costs and bring $22 million in revenue, satisfying skeptical board members and hundreds of critical parents from the city's East Side.

The plan, which the board is expected to consider March 15, would shift the district back to neighborhood schools. The move would end citywide busing for most schools and close a number of the district's magnet programs, efforts that administrators say have failed to close a persistent achievement gap between white and black students.

Almost 100 black community members attended the school board meeting Tuesday, dressed in black to show their support for the plan.

Although 75 percent of the district's students are members of minority groups, the most vocal criticism of the plan has come from whites upset that the changes would diminish school diversity.

Delores Henderson, a community member and principal of Ames and Sheridan Elementary schools, who helped organize the black parents at Tuesday's session, said their group did not want a small percentage of the community to determine what happens to children of color. "This is the first plan I've seen in the 45 years I've been involved with the district that's dealt with equity for our children."

Superintendent Valeria Silva told board members she will keep the district's French immersion program on the East Side, moving it into buildings formerly occupied by Ames and Prosperity Heights schools.

That move blunted criticism from several community members and business leaders who had accused administrators of systematically ignoring the East Side by closing community schools and placing magnet programs on the district's West Side.

District statistics show that students from the East Side, regardless of race or class, perform worse than other students in the district.

But parents from the immersion school, L'Etoile du Nord, were not appeased, noting that the school will still be underfunded and underserved under its new proposal.

"I think several parents will be satisfied with the opportunity to grow, but I don't know how we're going to split into two campuses," said Colleen Quesnell, a member of the school's site council.

Silva also sought to reassure board members who wanted to know exactly how much money the plan will save.

She offered more details and pledged that if the plan is approved she will update community members and the board monthly on the administration's progress.

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695

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