School closings, budget cuts proposed in St. Paul

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Closing Arlington High School and moving several elementary schools would affect more than 5,000 St. Paul Public Schools students in September, under budget cutting proposals presented to the Board of Education April 13.

Driven by a projected budget shortfall of more than $27 million, St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) Superintendent Valeria Silva presented a proposed list of school closings, realignments and other cuts to the Board of Education on April 13. Combined with a package already approved on April 6, the budget proposal now goes to schools, principals, and the community, as the Board of Education moves toward a June 15 budget decision.

Upcoming meetings

April 20 – Board of Education meeting

April 19-May 12 – Site meetings at schools

May 4 – Committee of the Board presentation on budget

May 10 – SPPS community meeting

May 13 – Board of Education listening session (7 p.m., Wellstone Center, 179 Robert Street, St. Paul)

May 18 – Board of Education meeting

May 20 – Committee of the Board meeting

May 26 SPPS community meeting

June 15 – Board of Education meeting to approve budget

 

Arlington High School would be closed under the proposal, with Washington Science and Technology Magnet moving into the building. Washington would become a grade 7-10 school in 2010-11,with an estimated enrollment of 1,086. Washington would grow to include 11th grade in 2011 and 12th grade in 2012.  Current Arlington 9th graders and incoming 9th graders, as well as current Washington 8th graders would remain in the school. Approximately 400 current Arlington 10th and 11th graders would transfer to other high schools.

Several other school buildings will be closed or moved. Although the buildings will be closed, the school programs will be moved, so students and teachers will remain together. This co-location will move smaller school populations into buildings with extra space. the scheduled co-locations are:

  • Ames moving to Vento (total students – 782)
  • Franklin moving to North End (total students – 631)
  • Prosperity Heights moving to Hayden Heights (total students – 547)
  • Sheridan moving to Highwood Hills (total students – 572)
  • Hazel Park moving to Battle Creek Middle (total students – 854)
  • Wellstone moving to the former Washington school building (total students – 670)

According to Superintendent Silva, some of the elementary schools are too small to operate as world-class schools. For example, she said, some schools might have a nurse or a counselor only one day per week. By co-locating two schools in the same buildign, it will be possible to provide more support to students there. Some savings will also be realized by having one principal for two low-enrollment schools.

Community meetings on the budget are scheduled for May 10 and 26, with site meetings at schools between April 19 and May 12.

In addition to the changes for these schools, central administration will be reorganized, with significant staff cuts. The reorganization is driven in part by budgetary considerations, but also by an organizational audit and restructuring report developed (and paid for) by the Broad Foundation. Dr. John Schiller, the consultant from the Broad Foundation, praised the level of professionalism and integrity that he encountered in SPPS, but warned that after years of budget cuts, “You are hitting the wall.”

Included in central administration restructuring are plans for two assistant superintendents for elementary schools and one for secondary schools, and a director for Turnaround Schools. The Department of Turnaround Schools, said Silva, will have a “laser focus” on specific low-achieving schools.

As part of the Washington BioSmart science and technology focus, its school day will be extended by one hour. This program, which has received $6 million-plus in non-district funding, has attracted a large enrollment.

Other elements of the budget cuts include reductions in busing, elimination of itinerant musical instrument instruction for grades 4-6, elimination of all middle school athletics, closing four of 12 swimming pools, and changes in building and grounds maintenance.

Superintendent Silva said that the recommended changes are part of right-sizing and realignment for SPPS, which will continue with changes in the future. Among the changes under consideration for 2011-12 and beyond are:

  • Ending the lease for the AGAPE program’s current location, and moving that program to the current Creative Arts building, a few blocks further east on University Avenue. The Creative Arts program would expand at another, larger site.
  • Realigning Adams Spanish Immersion and Highland Elementary, both of which have very high enrollment, by changing Highland Junior High to a grade 6-7-8 school. This would relieve enrollment pressure on Adams and Highland Elementary, while continuing the Spanish immersion alignment at Highland.
  • Three elementary schools now have Montessori programs, but no middle school or junior high is a Montessori school. The district is planning to establish a 6-7-8 Montessori school, perhaps at the current Hazel Park middle school location. (Great River Montessori is a charter school in St. Paul, with grades K-12.)