The St. Paul school board will vote Tuesday on a divisive restructuring plan that would affect almost every school in the district in 2014.
If passed, several magnet programs will end, citywide busing will be greatly reduced and many schools will be relocated.
Board members say the sweeping 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.
But 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, which, the chapter's education committee predicted, will become even more segregated.
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.
The plan has gotten wide praise from Mayor Chris Coleman, minority groups, ministers and, most notably, the city's African American Leadership Council. At a board meeting earlier this month, several dozen black community members showed up dressed in all black in support of the plan.
Many African-American leaders said it was the first aggressive effort they had seen the district take in closing the achievement gap.
"Going back to community schools will give us an opportunity to rally around our schools, which is what we've been trying to do," Council Member Melvin Carter III said.
Changes have been made
Since the plan was originally proposed in January, Superintendent Valeria Silva has held more than 40 meetings with community members across the district
She has made several changes to the plan, 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.
A petition is being circulated by parents asking the board to stall the vote.
Board members interviewed said they are largely in support of the plan.
"Most of what [the board] has talked about in the past few years has been around alignment," Jean O'Connell said. "We're now looking at changing the way we focus on achievement for all kids. How can we take the great learning we have in a couple schools and translate that to the whole district."
On Tuesday, four board members (O'Connell, Anne Carroll, Jeff Risberg and Elona Street-Stewart) -- the number needed to pass the plan -- stood with Coleman, black ministers and administrators in support of it at a festive news conference at Ames/Sheridan Elementary School.
But that evening, St. Paul's NAACP executive board approved a resolution from its education task force that questioned the legality of the plan. The statement argued that students of color are less successful at segregated schools, the district's magnet schools did little to increase diversity and, by limiting school choice, the district would create pockets of underserved and underperforming schools.
The 2014 plan divides the St. Paul district 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.
The district has not drawn specific neighborhood school boundaries yet, which will likely affect the makeup of a school's student body.
Administrators quickly disputed the civil rights organization's facts and called its analysis "oversimplified and in some cases just plain wrong."
St. Paul administrators canceled a meeting Thursday with the president of the NAACP after some members said they were looking to press a lawsuit against the district if the plan is passed.
"Any time that an organization has a public discussion regarding litigation against another organization, that organization is going to tread lightly," said district spokesman Howie Padilla. "That doesn't mean we aren't open to meeting with them in the future."
Board Member John Brodrick, who is also largely in support of the plan, said, "I was unnerved that the NAACP wasn't with us yet. They've been with us before for kids, equity and justice. And I'm hoping they're with us going forward."
The plan, which was preliminarily approved by the committee of the board earlier this month, is to be voted on in different pieces Tuesday night. Because the plan is to be implemented over the course of the next four years, the board may amend the plan in the future.
Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695