St. Paul school plan is OK'd

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II
  • Star Tribune
  • March 16, 2011 - 8:56 AM

The St. Paul school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a divisive restructuring plan that would affect almost every school in the district over the next three years.

Dozens of parents had pleaded with school board members not to pass the plan that would shift students back to their neighborhood schools by drastically limiting citywide transportation. They told board members Tuesday night that the 2014 Vision Plan would destroy diversity and be a "quick fix to a complex problem."

But board members acted decisively to approve the plan Superintendent Valeria Silva said would provide equal access to all students in the district and save them money as the state continues to slash funding.

"This board is stepping out to truly integrated schools versus what we have now which is not remotely what was intended 30 years ago on the heels of a court challenge," said board member Anne Carroll. "I commend those efforts although they were designed to serve white students. They weren't designed to serve students of color. This new plan is specific to serve the students we have in our districts now and the ones we will have in the future. It's about ... making sure it's working well for our kids."

Under the plan several magnet programs will end, citywide busing will be greatly reduced and many schools will be relocated by 2014.

"Too many children are not meeting the standards," Superintendent Valeria Silva told board members. "This plan provides for all students to be successful. We want successes in every corner of our city."

While some said the plan would, in fact, do that by allowing parents to get more involved in schools, others said it would make things worse.

The NAACP and the African American Leadership Council told board members in a letter Tuesday that the plan potentially could resegregate schools and cause the district "costly litigation."

Administrators say the restructuring proposal will close the achievement gap, save $10 million by reducing transportation and duplicate programs and bring in $22 million of revenue by recruiting more students to the district.

Silva has set a goal to get 75 percent of the district's students proficient in math and reading by 2014. Currently, 50 percent of the students are proficient. That number is much lower for some minority groups.

The 2014 plan divides St. Paul into six regions, all of which the district contends are already racially and socioeconomically diverse. Students would be provided transportation to their neighborhood school, their regional magnet school or any of the citywide magnet schools.

Some community members, particularly the city's NAACP chapter, say the plan will only increase the achievement gap by shifting students back to their neighborhood schools. That will result in schools becoming even more segregated, the chapter's education committee predicted.

Several other parents have accused the district of systematically ignoring the East Side by closing community schools and placing magnet programs on the West Side.

Since presenting the plan, Silva has made several changes, including keeping Four Seasons Elementary School open and keeping the popular L'Etoile du Nord French immersion school on the East Side, but splitting it between two campuses.

The plan would be installed in phases over the next four years. Some parts of the plan, such as specific school boundaries, will have to get further approval from the board. Because of the pending changes, parents will have until next Tuesday to choose which school they want their children to attend.

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695

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