St. Paul schools detail $33 million cuts

  • Article by: GREGORY A. PATTERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2010 - 10:28 PM

With the district facing a $27 million budget gap, school closings, staff layoffs and changing "school choice" are under consideration.

Teacher layoffs, school closings and fewer school choices are changes that students and families in St. Paul could encounter next year as the school district puts together a plan to close a $27 million budget gap.

The administration of the St. Paul school board Tuesday presented the bare outlines of a plan that would cut $33 million from its budget next year. Officials blamed the looming deficit on declining enrollment that has resulted in reduced student aid and rising costs, including increased spending on programs to aggressively raise student achievement.

A $25 million budget-cutting plan last year cut 143 teachers and more than 100 staff positions.

Without making specific suggestions, the administration hinted that school closings could be imminent, telling board members that many of the district's schools are not filled to capacity. Currently only 72 percent of St. Paul's school-age students attend the public schools, vs. 76 percent a decade ago. There are fewer school-age children also.

The administration's plan calls for budget cuts of $12.2 million in centrally administered programs and services. That would result from reorganizing many departments, staff cuts, reducing out of state travel and reducing professional development activities.

A plan to consolidate facilities could result in mothballing some buildings and moving programs elsewhere. Initially the district plans to save $3.5 million with such an initiative. Administration officials also said they could save $1.2 million by closing 10 of the district's 12 aquatic facilities and making other operational changes.

The district also is considering cutting $9.3 million from schools by making its academic and extracurricular activities more uniform and trimming $3 million through a voluntary early retirement program.

The district learned earlier this week that it will receive $1.3 million this year in federal Title I funding, money typically targeted to bolster the education of lower income students.

One solution the district has rejected so far is going to a four-day school week, as some rural school districts in Minnesota and other states have done in recent years. Superintendent Valeria Silva said such four-day weeks create longer school days that stress family schedules and that many children are not ready to be in school for so many hours per day.

Administration officials also indicated they would alter St. Paul's popular "school choice" program, which has created a hodgepodge of neighborhood, magnet and citywide schools. As a result, some 90 percent of its students are bused sometimes far across town, incurring transportation costs of over $23 million this year.

Officials said a final plan will be approved by the board June 15.

Gregory A. Patterson • 612-673-7287

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