St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva could be on her way out as leader of the state’s second-largest district — barely six months into her new three-year contract — as criticism of her leadership has grown.
In a three-paragraph statement, the school board announced Wednesday that the board and Silva were exploring “various transition options” and “accompanying obligations” to the district under Silva’s agreement.
The announcement came amid rumors in the district that a buyout could be announced later this week.
If a deal is struck, it would come on the heels of a tumultuous 2015-16 school year marred by repeat instances of student-on-staff violence and other school climate and safety concerns — issues that the district’s teachers union considered serious enough to strike over.
A walkout was averted when the district and union reached a deal in February to allow schools to pilot new ways to tackle school-discipline problems. But two months later, district parents presented a petition to board members seeking Silva’s ouster, citing not only the discipline concerns, but enrollment losses to charter schools and alleged attempts to stifle teachers who were critical of her policies.
Silva and her leadership team are “causing damage to our schools,” Tasha Rose, a district parent, told board members that night to applause.
Denise Rodriguez, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, said Wednesday that she would not comment about Silva’s possible exit for now.
“I want to be respectful of the discussions that are taking place between the board and the superintendent,” she said.
Silva, who took over leadership of the district in December 2009, said earlier this year she planned to make the current contract her last. At its conclusion in December 2018, she would have full pension benefits under the “Rule of 90” that combines one’s age with years of service. She also would have completed a nine-year run that included an ambitious overhaul of the district and efforts to better serve minority students.
But a majority of her school board bosses were elected last year on a wave of discontent over how that strategic plan was executed, chiefly the elements involving a shifting of more special-education students and English Language learners to mainstream classrooms.
To Silva, it was about equity. Her critics countered that while worthy, the steps lacked adequate staff support.
Recent weeks have brought consternation over how to fill a $15.1 million budget gap for 2016-17. Parents have pushed to keep cuts away from classrooms while arguing that district administrative costs are too high.
“We are cutting to the bone,” Silva told board members during budget deliberations Tuesday. “I am not exaggerating.”
In its statement Wednesday the board said: “Superintendent Silva has been an integral part of the St. Paul Public Schools for 29 years and her value to the students of the district is primary to [the transition] discussions. The district is committed to the mission of providing a premier education for the students entrusted to it.”
The board and superintendent would have no further comment, the release stated.
This year, Silva is being paid $213,026, plus $11,000 per year in longevity pay in recognition of her nearly 30 years with the district. The contract entitles her to the full pay and benefits she would have collected through December 2018 if she is dismissed by the board without cause. It also states, however, that she cannot “unreasonably” refuse another position offered by the district as a principal, administrator or teacher.
The current contract was approved in March 2015 by the previous school board despite arguments by some critics that it should have been put off until after the election.