Friday, February 20, 2004

An open letter to the St. Paul School Board

I sent this E-mail to all members of the SPPS BoD last evening. I have already received a response from Tom Conlon (the only Republican on the board) sharing his sincere willingness to address these concerns, and include me in the process.

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Thank you for taking the time out of your very busy schedules to visit with the Wilson community. I wanted to take an opportunity to clarify and expand on my comments from the meeting on Wednesday, February 18, at the Wilson Junior High School building.

The Saint Paul Public School district is facing difficult challenges. Minneapolis is facing even tougher decisions, and that is what may lie ahead for ISD #625. My comments last night, and in this correspondence may not change the inevitability of what will happen at Wilson. I have watched the systemic disassembling of this program over the last several years. I can not identify exactly when the mortal wound was inflicted, but the Wilson program has been hemorrhaging for some time. This has NOT been because of the internal staff and administration. I believe district administration is responsible for this due to the restrictions placed on the program over the years.

My understanding is that sometime during Kay Arndt's tenure at the building, the first attempts at designating an attendance area for Wilson began. This key opportunity would have provided a much-needed nucleus from which to build a successful program. A program that could have had ownership in the community. Now, those of us in the neighborhood, no longer have a neighborhood school. Our 'choice' has been restricted.

The district takes great pride in providing choice for all learners within it's boundaries. Saint Paul, I believe, was one of the first to provide an internal, open enrollment model. Now, for the Hamline/Midway community, a choice to attend a neighborhood Middle/Junior High School is no longer an option. I support choice, and broadbased opportunity within the district, but maybe we don't have that luxury anymore. If we are beginning to close our schools, maybe it is time for the district to re-evaluate how they deliver educational services.

One area of bulging waste in the district is transportation. To stand on a corner and count several busses driving down the street with only a few students in them is disheartening. Every school has their own busses, and if a neighborhood has students attending each of the schools of choice, that many busses will be driving down the street of that neighborhood.

How can we save money here;

1) Preserving Neighborhood schools: If more students were attending schools closer to their home, less busses. The Hamline/Midway community may now have another couple buses driving through our residential streets to transport our neighborhood kids to another community.

2) Hub System: A hub system could be developed that would significantly reduce the number of busses on the road. We could consider having Arlington and Central, for example, be designated transportation hubs. Each neighborhood would have only one bus driving through it, picking up students to bring them to the hub locations. At the hub, these same busses would now have a school designation, and student would transfer to the necessary bus to get them to their final destination. Sure, there are a multitude of logistical things to consider, but I can imagine the opposition to Magnet schools when the Transportation piece was being discussed and evaluated.

3) Regional Choice: Currently, there are 5 area Superintendents. Areas A, B, and C include the traditional schools that encompass the school district. Choice can still be provided, but the choices could be limited to the schools within your Area, be at A, B, or C. This would build community, limit transportation miles, and undoubtedly save money.

I certainly don't have all the answers. I also understand, and respect, that the decision to close Wilson is a virtual done deal. My concerns, however, go far beyond preserving the Wilson program. They are for providing for the students of St. Paul. They are for providing CHOICE for those students of St. Paul. Right now, there is a segment of the district's population that will be denied choice next year, the choice of attending a neighborhood school. This school district MUST re-evaluate the long-term educational delivery system of the entire district and make the tough decisions, with as much information as possible.

A buzz this campaign season regards being able to make the tough decisions, even though it may not seem popular at the time. The decision to close Wilson has been presented as the 'least disruptive' of the options available. Is that REALLY what should motivate our decisions? Shouldn't we be taking a much broader look at how this district operates if we are now facing school closures? Are we, as a district, going to continue to make decisions that close schools and dismantle programs based on knee jerk reactions and squeaky wheel opposition? I sure hope not. I recognize that this decision was one that had been considered for months, but to not involve the community, the staff, and the parents effected, was a grave error.

I appreciate the desire by the Board, and District administration to listen and reflect on the concerns by the neighborhood and the Wilson/LEAP community, but this should have happened last Spring, or even last Fall. However, during those times, when we would ask about the future viability of the Wilson program, we were told "Don't worry, that won't happen" or "We wouldn't be building you a new Gym and Library if that was even being considered." How times have changed, and how quickly.

There are other options, there are other choices. Wilson did NOT have to die! Which program(s) will be next?!?


*snipped personal information including address, phone, and my three childrens' names with their Educational history within the district

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