St. Paul Public Schools officials pushed aside recent talk of reining in charter school growth by saying the district instead should find ways to work with the competition.

“Charter schools aren’t going away,” Jackie Turner, the district’s chief operations officer, told school board members last week. “And, in fact, they’re growing. ... Should we work with them and welcome their students?”

Recently, the St. Paul Federation of Educators asked school board and City Council candidates if they would back a moratorium on new charter schools pending a study of their impact on the community. The idea earned strong support, particularly among council candidates.

A group, Parents for St. Paul Schools, also has formed in opposition to new charter schools and expansions. The district is losing too much revenue to the competition, the group says.

In 2017-18, the city saw more than 11,000 of its school-age children attend charter schools rather than district schools, a Star Tribune analysis of state enrollment data shows.

The district now is anticipating a $4.6 million budget deficit in the coming school year.

The issue of partnerships came up last week during a presentation on the district’s school-choice lottery results.

Turner detailed which of the district’s schools had waiting lists. She noted, too, that 75 families with kindergartners failed to gain entrance to their preferred district schools. Fifty-five sought Montessori options. The district now can expect to see many of them select schools not in the district, Turner said.

On the subject of partnerships, Turner said that while the district might lose kids to charter schools in the kindergarten and third grades, it could entice them to return to district schools in transition grades.

“Let’s be ready at sixth grade,” she said. “Let’s be ready at ninth grade.”

The district has been able to attract 150 students from two language-immersion charter schools — Twin Cities German Immersion School in St. Paul and Yinghua Academy in Minneapolis — that now serve students in grades K-8, Turner said.

When the district learns about new charter schools, it should say to them, “Let’s look to partner and work together on this,” she added.

Board Member Jeanelle Foster said she liked the collaborative approach.

“There has to be a realization that our district is not a good fit for every family,” she said.

Foster is not up for re-election, but three colleagues — Zuki Ellis, Steve Marchese and Mary Vanderwert — are running this year and vying for union and DFL Party endorsements.

Ellis told the federation she needed to know more about the steps entailed in a moratorium. Vanderwert said she would back the move if the community wanted it. Marchese said he supported a moratorium and a study showing how charter schools affect the community and the education of students.

The district is budgeting for a loss of 513 students in 2019-20.


Staff writer MaryJo Webster contributed to this report.