St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva on Tuesday night was given another three years by the school board to run the state’s second-largest district, despite growing concerns from some parents and teachers about unruly behavior in the schools.
The contract extension, approved on a 6-1 vote without any comment, was no surprise given that board members in December had signaled their intention to keep Silva when they gave her a “satisfactory” rating and announced plans to begin negotiating a new three-year agreement.
But Silva’s five-year leadership of the district has grown controversial, as some teachers and parents are resisting Silva-led changes they say have the effect of increasing disciplinary issues.
Unrest is evident, as a group called Caucus for Change seeks to unseat three school board members seeking re-election in November.
Silva’s current contract doesn’t end until Dec. 15, and some thought that action on extending it should be left to the board members who win election or re-election in November.
But Board Member Jean O’Connell said the responsibility belonged to current board members, who she said wanted Silva to know they support her staying in St. Paul.
“We want her to run this district in the future,” O’Connell said.
Silva, whose current salary is $204,833, will get a 4 percent raise in 2016 and then 2 percent raises in each of the two succeeding years. By 2018, she will be making $223,849 and be eligible for a 1 percent performance bonus worth $2,238.
She will continue to receive an additional $11,000 per year for her length of service with the district.
Many leaders, including Mayor Chris Coleman, have expressed support for Silva on such policies as racial equity, designed to lift the performance of students of color, and mainstreaming some special-education students in regular classrooms.
In her State of the District address in January, Silva defended her policies, noting that graduation rates are up overall and for black students and those learning English. District statistics show a graduation rate of 76 percent last year, and a rise in overall graduation rates for the past six years.
Other Silva initiatives include issuing iPads to all students last fall, which she said has helped them become more engaged, and replacing two-year junior high schools with three-year middle schools.
Critics, however, point out that enrollment targets remain unmet and that the achievement gap persists between students of color and white students.
Half a dozen members of the public spoke before the board Tuesday on Silva’s contract. Four of them spoke in favor, while two suggested the board postpone action on the contract until after school board elections.
Jeff Martin, head of the St. Paul NAACP, said that while the district isn’t where it should be in terms of racial equity, Silva “is willing to have the conversation … we think you’re fighting the right fight.”
Steve Marchese, who is running for the school board as part of the Caucus for Change, asked the board not to extend Silva’s contract. “The board members need to respect the will of the people,” he said.
After the meeting, board Member John Brodrick — the lone vote against renewing Silva’s contract — said the administration wasn’t doing enough the address the issue he said he hears most about from parents and teachers: behavior problems in the schools.
“I continue to hear those concerns, so my vote tonight was out of frustration with the administration and the board,” he said.
Also Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a new policy mandating a safe and respectful environment for transgender students.
Among other things, the policy permits students to be called by their preferred names and pronouns, and allows them to participate in activities in a way consistent with their gender identity.
District officials called it the first comprehensive policy of its kind in a Minnesota public school system.
“It is my hope that this policy makes our schools safe and welcoming for our LGBT students. … As controversial as this has been, it is just one more step to a more prosperous community,” said Board Chair Mary Doran.