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Could Lawsuits Greet St. Paul School Plan?

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(credit: CBS) Holly Wagner
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By Holly Wagner, WCCO-TV

ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Parents in St. Paul Public Schools are still reeling from a decision by the school board to restructure the district.

For one thing, it’ll be a lot harder for them to choose a different school across town because school buses won’t take them there.

The district’s plan is called “Strong Schools, Strong Communities.” It’s designed to help more students do well with math and reading, and help close the achievement gap. It’s also expected to save the district millions of dollars in the midst of a $20 million shortfall.

The school board voted last night to move forward with the plan that will end citywide busing, get rid of several magnet programs, and relocate several schools by 2014.

The plan will be phased in over the next three years and will divide St. Paul into six regions that the district says are racially and socio-economically diverse.

Expo Elementary on Niles and Warwick in St. Paul will lose its magnet status when this new plan is phased in. A school official there said about a third of their students will be affected by the change in busing.

Right now they have quite a few kids bused in from the Frogtown neighborhood, which is five miles from the school. Under this new plan, students in that neighborhood would have to find a ride to school or be bused to a school closer to home.

Kenya Walker lives in Frogtown and her son, Lance, is a first grader at Expo. She drives him to school every day and says she’ll continue driving him after the changes. She knows other parents won’t have that option.

Walker says she understands budget constraints but worries about the long term effects.

“At whose expense? Are we saving the budget and neglecting to educate our kids? If we neglect to educate our kids, we won’t have a budget because we’re not equipping them to compete and help them make a difference for our community,” she said.

The plan has drawn quite a bit of controversy from parents, the NAACP and the African American Leadership Council. The NAACP reportedly sent a letter to the school board stating concerns about the plan re-segregating schools and even mentioned a possible lawsuit.

Superintendent Valeria Silva says the city is so diverse, that won’t happen.

“We wouldn’t put together a plan that would cause segregation,” said Silva. “We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do. My community and my staff put this plan together because we have to an achievement gap that we have to address. We’re doing what’s good for kids.”

Silva said one focus of the plan is to ensure students at every school in St. Paul can get an equal education. Right now, she said, there are schools that are underperforming. Part of the plan will extend the school day for several schools that are underperforming, and revamp the curriculum.

Silva says they’re also ramping up recruitment efforts in hopes of attracting new students to the district.

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