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St. Paul schools should market to skeptical parents, consultant says

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A consultant for the St. Paul school district says improving school climate and marketing to skeptical parents could help increase enrollment.

In a report delivered to board members this week, St. Paul parent and consultant Katie Sterns recommended the district build up music, art and programs for advanced students. She also suggested expanding preschool offerings and improving communication to parents about the district's efforts to improve school climate.

The report calls on St. Paul to hire a marketing and communications director and develop marketing plans for each school.

"This is an issue for everyone, this isn't just about the schools or the district. The community can step up, teachers are part of this, families and parents can be part of this as well," Sterns said "We all benefit from and want to see the school district succeed."

Sterns said in order to maintain high-cost programs for special education and English learner students, the district should target marketing efforts at students with fewer needs who cost less to educate.

"We do not get adequate funding from the state, we do not get adequate funding from federal government to provide for needs of many students within this district," Sterns said. "We historically have offset those shortfalls through redistribution of revenue that comes in through students who don't have as high of a cost." 

But the report lacks data on some key points. It does not have race, income, or other demographic characteristics of families who leave the district. The most recent information on parents' reasons for leaving St. Paul schools comes from a 2015 survey with a low response rate.

District officials say the report will be considered as part of strategic planning.

A grant from the St. Paul Foundation funded the project. Sterns' contract with the district capped the total cost at $50,000.