The St. Paul school board voted 6-1 Tuesday night to strip the name of a slave-owning U.S. president from one of its schools, overriding the vocal objections of some of the school's alumni.
Linwood Monroe Arts Plus, a dual-campus school that decades ago was home to the former Monroe High, named in honor of President James Monroe, now will be known as Global Arts Plus.
Red-clad proponents pushed for the change to better reflect the school's arts-infused focus and diversity. Students come from all over St. Paul and all over the world, said Saray Garnett-Hochuli, co-chairwoman of the school's parent-teacher organization.
Linwood Monroe's upper grades now are housed at the former Monroe High, and that school's active alumni — the last class graduated in 1977 — brought a smattering of green, emblematic of the school's traditional "Green Wave" nickname and school color, to the boardroom to fight the change.
In the end, Board Member John Brodrick was siding with opponents. Erasing the name of a U.S. president is new to Twin Cities name-changing conversations, and Brodrick, reflecting aloud, described it as a significant and important moment that should not be rushed.
"Would you agree?" he said, to applause from name-change critics.
Board Member Steve Marchese, however, said it was time to think of the young people carving out a new future.
"We respect our history, but we are not bound to it," he said.
The showdown brought a tense start to a meeting during which the board voted 6-1 to approve a newly balanced $579 million general-fund budget for 2019-20.
Critics of the name change said school officials failed to follow policy requiring broader alumni and community input. A year ago, more than 700 people signed a petition to keep the Monroe name a part of the W. 7th Street community, Al Hanzal, a 1960 graduate, noted before the meeting.
Dave Bredemus, a 31-year employee of the district who worked 25 years at Monroe, opposed the change. He said that he met with supporters of the change and saw no willingness to compromise. He said that while the new name could be described as a product of the "school community," it was not the work of the community at large.
"It is so important to be involved with the community around the school," he said.
More reflective of mission
Supporters wanted to erase Monroe's name and better reflect the school's current mission. Global Arts Plus was chosen from among three options that also included St. Paul Community Arts Plus and Linwood West 7th Arts Plus — taking 36% of the vote by students, parents and staff members.
Tuesday's vote also directs the administration to work with alumni and the West End community to explore a way to honor the Monroe name, but not necessarily James Monroe. Many people in the neighborhood know the name simply as Monroe.
On the budget front, the district had been eyeing a potential fifth consecutive budget deficit before being rescued by Gov. Tim Walz and state legislators.
Marie Schrul, the district's chief financial officer, said a late infusion of state money for voluntary preschool programming helped balance a general fund budget that also included $17.3 million in new voter-approved funding.
The district is investing in its middle schools and in new teacher coaches who Superintendent Joe Gothard said are needed to bring more structure to efforts to improve school climate and make classes more relevant to students of diverse backgrounds.
But this year's budget wrangling also pointed to potential problems to come.
Last week for the first time, the district reported that it fell about 1,000 students short of what it projected for the 2018-19 school year when it assembled that budget a year ago.
The 2019-20 budget approved Tuesday projects the loss of 513 students in the coming year.
Also, while the $17.3 million helped steady the district's finances, the bulk of it — about $10.6 million — went to cover contract costs and inflation, leaving only about $6.7 million to fund a new strategic plan, SPPS Achieves, that had been a major selling point during last year's levy campaign.
That $17.3 million no longer will be new money in 2020-21 but part of the base budget.
At the same time, the district is sure to be grappling with a new round of inflationary costs next year, meaning it will have to find new ways to meet the next budget-balancing challenge, Marchese said. He cast the lone "no" vote as a protest about insufficient progress — in his view — to change the budgeting process.