St. Paul schools will try a PR push

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 9, 2011 - 9:56 PM

Using private donations, the district aims to boost enrollment by up to 5,000 students by 2014.

In an effort to reverse its ebbing enrollment, the St. Paul School District will launch a marketing campaign this summer aimed at promoting a positive image that would attract students back to city schools.

"We want to better tell our stories and not rely on the media to do that," said Suzanne Kelly, the district's chief of staff. "We're not just selling ourselves, we're telling the community what we have to offer that the media won't tell because it's not sexy or sensational."

The district will pay for the marketing effort with $225,000 it has received from several local private organizations.

In the past two decades, Minnesota legislators have created a scramble for students and the tax dollars that pay for their educations when they began funding charter schools and allowed students to transfer out of poorly performing districts. While enrollment in St. Paul has dwindled, enrollment in surrounding suburban districts has continued to climb.

Since then, many public school districts have bought billboard space and television ads to promote their academic opportunities.

The St. Paul district began looking at ways to better market itself when student enrollment began dipping in 2000, Kelly said. Superintendent Valeria Silva set a goal this year of attracting up to 5,000 students by 2014. The district currently has about 38,000 students enrolled.

"There's good stuff that happens every day in our district," Kelly said. "I think people know that we provide a great education for students at some schools. We want people to know that that's happening across the district at different sites. Beneath the data, there are other stories to tell."

Exactly how the marketing campaign will look is still in the planning phase.

"We hope to have the campaign up and running by the beginning of the school year," said Julie Schultz Brown, director of the recently created Communications, Marketing and Development department.

As part of a restructuring of administration, the district changed its communications department to include marketing and development.

The department will raise private funds for the school, work with the news media, run the district's website and write state and federal grants for the district.

Several local businesses, including Travelers, 3M and Ecolab, financially support district leadership training, college-preparation programs and engineer and science programs.

Private funding is becoming more important because of declines in state appropriations, school leaders say.

"There's always been a need to support what we're doing to the extent that private dollars can encourage investment to support our core work," Kelly said.

The St. Paul school board recently approved a 2011-12 school year budget that includes $25 million in expense cuts and 341 layoffs.

Last year, the district raised $12 million in private donations.

"The funding community has been very generous to us, and I hope they will continue to do so in the future," Brown said.

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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