St. Paul Public Schools may close 5 schools, change 10 programs to deal with declining enrollment

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Monday, St. Paul school board members heard recommendations to change up to 10 school programs, relocate others, and close up to five schools: Highwood Hills, John A. Johnson, Jackson, Wellstone, and LEAP High School.

The district says declining enrollment is the problem.

The decline is coming from a decrease in birth rates, something that is happening across the nation, and more school options for students and families.

The 10 school programs that will have expanded or changed include: Bruce Vento, Cherokee Heights, Galtier, Hamline, J.J. Hill, LNFI (L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion) Upper, LNFI Lower, Parkway, Phalen, and Riverview.

Additionally, Obama Elementary would temporarily close for remodeling.

"We have come to the time where we really can’t continue to take from the larger and give to the smaller, we’re at that place in our budget process," said Jackie Turner, the chief of operations for the district.

For the past year, 11 workgroups totaling roughly 130 people, including St. Paul Public Schools staff, parents, community partners and other organizations, have been studying how to align school facilities and programs. The plan is called Envision SPPS.

The main goal is to provide "a well-rounded education for all students."

"What I want SPPS to get, certainly enrollment is critical, but we also have to stop and make some hard decisions at this time so that we can share with our community that these are the structures for a well-rounded education that you can count on," Superintendent Dr. Joe Gothard said at a school board meeting last month.

The district says its plan will impact mainly elementary and middle schools — elementary schools with at least 450 students and middle schools with at least 720 students are ideal and considered sustainable.

"Even if we have a formula that we are using, it still doesn’t make sense to me that you’re not doing what you said we should do, which is provide a well-rounded education regardless of what building you are in in the district," SPPS School Board Member Zuki Ellis said.

The president of St. Paul Federation of Educators said in a statement:

"Many of the programs and buildings the district has targeted for closure are buildings and programs that suffered precisely because the district chose not to invest in them. These recommendations will cause a great deal of disruption for our families and communities on the East side and West side, and will have minimal negative impact on our predominantly white neighborhoods."

The school board is set to vote on the recommendations on Nov. 16.

The public will have an opportunity to comment in the coming weeks through both in-person events and virtual sessions.

Public information sessions are scheduled for Oct. 26 and Nov. 8 from 6-7:30 p.m.

Listening sessions will be held on Oct. 28 and Nov. 11 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The school board meeting lasted more than five hours Monday evening.