The St. Paul Board of Education has approved a plan to close six schools over the next two years, which will impact more than 2,100 students.
The board voted 5-2 Wednesday night in favor of Envision SPPS, which will close five schools at the end of this school year and the sixth school in 2023 to help address declining enrollment in the district.
"I know that no matter what the data say, closing a school is traumatic for students, families and staff. Closing schools is the last thing that I, members of my leadership team, or Board members want to do," SPPS Superintendent Joe Gothard said in a news release. "But when our current enrollment reality is negatively impacting our ability to provide every student with the education and services they need and deserve, something has to change."
This approved plan is smaller than what was originally proposed in October. That plan sparked vocal opposition from three school communities, and those schools — LEAP High School, Wellstone Spanish Dual Immersion and Highwood Hills Elementary — now will not close.
At the end of the 2021-22 school year:
- Galtier Elementary School closes and merges at Hamline.
- Jackson Preparatory Elementary School community program closes and merges at Maxfield. Jackson Preparatory Elementary School Hmong Language merges at Phalen Lake.
- John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary closes and merges at Bruce Vento.
- L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion (LNFI) lower closes and merges at the LNFI upper campus.
- Parkway Montessori and Community Middle School closes and reopens as the Hmong Language Immersion and Culture Program upper campus (to Phalen Lake’s lower campus).
- Riverview West Side School of Excellence community program closes and merges at Cherokee.
The Cherokee Heights Montessori program will relocate and merge at J.J. Hill Montessori after the 2021-22 school year. Then Cherokee Heights will reopen as a community school and J.J. Hill Montessori will relocate to the Barack and Michelle Obama Elementary site once remodeling is complete, either in the fall of 2024 or the fall of 2025.
Then, at the end of the 2022-23 school year, the Barack and Michelle Obama Elementary will close.
At the start of the 2025-26 school year, Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented’s enrollment pathway will be expanded from Highland Park High School to other high schools so that students can attend their community high schools.
Gothard says student placement staff will contact families that will be impacted by these changes. They will get to choose to either go to the new school in their community or go to another school of their choosing.
Full details on the plan can be found here.
What's behind these changes?
Enrollment has been dropping in recent years, and is expected to plummet further based on declining birth rates across the city (a trend seen statewide as well) and competition from charter schools in the area, resulting in an excess of 8,000 empty seats in SPPS, which makes many school programs unsustainable, the presentation to the school board on Wednesday explained.
This will compound financial troubles at smaller schools, since state and federal funding may not be sufficient. The district could take from the general fund, as it has been, to cover these costs, taking resources from the larger, well-funded schools. But this will ultimately "chip away" at these programs to their detriment, officials say.
Larger schools can also be more efficient, the district argues, and can provide more affordable, school-time activities such as field trips. (Currently, small schools often have to offer these experiences after school, which creates disparities between these students and those at other, larger sites.)
These changes will provide all students with a full range of educational opportunities and student support by relocating them to programs that provide access to a well-rounded education, the district said.
Shaymus McLaughlin contributed to this report.