St. Paul school boundaries plan is due this month

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 3, 2011 - 12:04 AM

A school board committee was charged with determining what criteria the district should consider when drawing boundaries for elementary schools.

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St. Paul schools Superintendent Valeria Silva at an assembly.

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The results of six months' worth of homework will be revealed this month when a St. Paul schools committee presents its answer to this question:

Should a student's race or family income be considered when the district draws its new boundaries for elementary schools?

The "integration/choice" team has been evaluating district policy on school choice and district boundaries, and how that policy will play into a sweeping reorganization of the district.

Superintendent Valeria Silva will review the committee's recommendations and then make her own to the board in the next two months on whether the district should change its current policy, which does not consider race or family income in deciding where a student should go to school.

Whatever policy is in place -- whether it be the current policy or a revamped version -- will guide the administration in drawing elementary boundaries, which will go into effect in the fall of 2013.

The board will vote on the new boundaries next spring, administrators said. Middle and high school boundaries have already been set and will go into effect next school year.

"I hope that we can have an equitable choice system so that people will feel they have access to the schools that they truly want their children to be in," said Board Member Keith Hardy, who co-chaired the committee.

Several black St. Paul leaders have said the reorganization, which will transform dozens of magnet schools into neighborhood schools by 2014, will lead to racial segregation. They have threatened to sue.

Nationally, opponents have argued in court that integration plans are ineffective and are expensive forms of social engineering.

The reorganization was set into motion in March when the board approved "Strong Schools Strong Communities," a four-year plan that will cut district costs by reducing city-wide transportation, a decades-long strategy to prevent segregation.

The new plan was sparked by the recognition that students performed just as well or better on standardized tests at neighborhood schools as they did at magnet schools, administrators said.

District officials also said there are fewer segregated neighborhoods in the city now than in years past. In the past 20 years, the student population flipped from less than 30 percent minority to 75 percent minority, with a large portion of English language learners.

The "Strong Schools Strong Communities" plan divides the district into six areas. Each area offers residents a high school, middle school and a choice of magnet, Montessori and special education programs as well as community elementary schools. Busing would be provided within each area.

In order to determine the boundaries for those areas, the district used building capacities, major roads and landmarks, but not race or family income.

That upset black leaders, who argued that this would result in several racially isolated schools, and would ultimately widen the achievement gap.

"The real issue is not magnet versus community schools, but segregation and concentrated poverty," the NAACP and the African American Leadership Council wrote in a letter last spring.

In response to the opposition, Silva appointed nine teams made up of board members, community representatives and administrators to help execute the plan. Other teams were given tasks such as finding ways to close the achievement gap and creating community partnerships.

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

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