St. Paul school board approves plan that closes, changes 6 schools

A filled room for a school board meeting
St. Paul Public Schools families, many representing the Highwood Hills and Wellstone schools, packed an Oct. 28 public comment session on the consolidation plan.
Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Minnesota’s second largest district has voted to close several of its schools, but spared three others that were originally proposed to shutter.

The St. Paul Public Schools board decided 5-2 to close J.A. Johnson and Jackson Elementary schools. There are no plans to reopen them after next June.

Galtier Community School, L’Etoile du Nord and Parkway Montessori Middle School will close at that time as well and Obama Elementary in 2023, with plans to reopen them after changes are made.

The amended proposal keeps open LEAP high school, Wellstone Elementary and Highwood Hills Elementary, following protests from parents, staff and students.

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The board outlined plans for changes in the schools slated to close temporarily. L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion lower campus will merge with the upper campus. Parkway will reopen as a Hmong language middle school. And Obama will reopen in 2024 or 2025, taking on students from J.J. Hill Montessori and also housing a middle school.

The changes will affect about 6 percent of the district’s population, according to their estimates.

Falling enrollment due to declining birth rates and increased competition from other schools made changes necessary, district officials said.  Only about 63 percent of all school-aged kids in the city actually attend St. Paul Public Schools. The rest choose private, charter, open enrollment or home school. 

That’s resulted in more than 8,000 empty student seats across the district. The proposal to close or merge schools is supposed to get students out of smaller schools and into larger, better resourced schools with more specialized teachers and staff. District officials have said they hope the changes will eliminate empty spots and be better for students and enrollment in the future.

Board treasurer John Brodrick voted against the resolution to close schools, however, saying the district couldn’t move forward by breaking trust with the community. He said the district needed to "pause and turn to our communities ... start over and get this right."

Board clerk Zuki Ellis, who also voted against the resolution, said the decision to close the schools was “weighing heavy on my heart.”

“I need us to do better,” Ellis said. “I don’t know if this is the way to do that … I have so many concerns about what comes next for families, for our students.”

Board member Chauntyll Allen also expressed concern over closing schools.

“It’s not easy, but we need to do something,” Allen said, adding that while she wasn’t OK closing school buildings, she was OK with a plan that would help the district provide a quality education. In the end she, along with four others, voted in favor of the resolution.

Correction (Dec. 2, 2021): A previous version of the audio incorrectly stated future plans for Wellstone Elementary. The current version of the audio is corrected and updated.