Nov. 30—Defying warnings from administrators, St. Paul school board members have proposed a scaled-back plan for consolidating schools that removes its most controversial elements.
The board still is set to vote Wednesday on Superintendent Joe Gothard's "Envision SPPS," which would close eight schools next fall, displacing nearly 3,000 students. The idea is to create better economies of scale so that all schools can offer a "well-rounded education," with teacher specialists in the arts, science, gifted instruction and more.
But parent feedback has been overwhelmingly negative in three of the schools set to close.
Board member Jim Vue, saying the board had reached a "general consensus," laid out an alternative plan during a meeting Monday night:
— LEAP, an alternative high school with 125 recent immigrants, would remain open rather than closing and sending its students to existing English-language academies inside comprehensive high schools.
— Highwood Hills Elementary would stay open, too, instead of closing and sending its 196 students to nearby schools, such as Dayton's Bluff and Battle Creek.
— Wellstone Elementary, which has 528 students split between BioSmart and Spanish Dual Immersion programs, also would remain open — a decision that affects several other buildings.
— Riverview Elementary would keep both its community program and Spanish immersion, which would not get an influx of students from Wellstone. And Cherokee Heights, with an enrollment of 173, would remain a Montessori school and would not acquire students from Riverview.
— JJ Hill Montessori also would stay open. It would not acquire Montessori students from Cherokee Heights, and it would not move to the Obama building.
— Obama would remain a community elementary rather than closing and later acquiring the Montessori school from JJ Hill. And a planned middle school at Obama's west tower would be canceled.
Board member Yusef Carrillo, who has family ties to Wellstone, said he'd rather the district focus on what it can do to help underenrolled schools reach their potential.
"We would like the district to talk about enrollment in a global sense, not just in a piecemeal way," he said.
ALL OR NOTHING
Board members in recent weeks have pressed Gothard to give them options, to no avail, as the superintendent and his administrative team continued to urge board members to accept the entire plan as presented.
Gothard said Monday he hadn't seen Vue's alternative proposal before it was announced and he was reluctant to speak to its feasibility.
"I am very concerned about saying yes or saying no tonight at the dais, not having seen" the details, Gothard said.
Chief Operating Officer Jackie Turner warned the alternative plan could hurt enrollment at the schools being saved from closure. When parents are picking a school, she said, the district steers them away from schools that don't have a certain future.
"Some of these schools could potentially be (left with) 100 students or less," she said.
The new plan still calls for Galtier, Jackson and John A. Johnson elementary schools to close, L'Etoile du Nord French Immersion to merge its two campuses, and for Parkway Montessori to become a Hmong studies middle school next fall.
At minimum, Vue, Carrillo and John Brodrick are on board with the alternative. Zuki Ellis said she likes parts of it. Chauntyll Allen called for a clear plan for the underenrolled schools if they don't turn things around. Jeanelle Foster and Jessica Kopp seem to prefer the original plan.
Kopp, who worked as a parent to boost enrollment at Hamline Elementary, said the alternative plan would require asking parents at underresourced schools to do the heavy lifting of recruiting their neighbors. Once a school gets on a closure list, she said, "that's a hard thing to shake."