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St. Paul Officials Defend School Busing Change

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – There are some big changes coming to St. Paul Public Schools next school year.

Starting this fall, the district will no longer bus students to schools outside of their geographic zone. That means if they can’t find their own transportation, as many as 2,800 elementary and middle school students could have to change schools.

It’s part of new program called Strong Schools, Strong Communities.

Valeria Silva, the St. Paul Public Schools superintendent, hopes it will mean a better education for all.

‘Good For Students’

When classes begin at EXPO Elementary next year, about 15 percent of the students will be new.

Moreover, of the 200 kids that live outside the school zone, EXPO principal Darren Yerama estimates 100 will have to leave because they will no longer get busing.

The other 100 — who can provide their own transportation  — will likely stay.

“The reason we’re doing it is because it’s going to be good for students,” Yerama said.

He added: “I think it’s going to make everything stronger, starting with the schools, flowing out to the community.”

The idea behind the changes is simple, even if the logistics are not.

“I did not do this just because I wanted to pay less in transportation,” Silva said. “I did this because what we were seeing is that it didn’t matter where our kids went, they were getting the same results.”

The change, according to the superintendent, will foster more after-school involvement, fewer hour-long bus rides and more parents participating in school.

“I believe that when communities work together, you’re going to get a better way to educate your child,” she said.

The change should not come as a surprise to parents. They’ve known about this for at least two years through community meetings, school meetings, newspaper ads, phone calls, and letters home.

But some parents still aren’t happy with the plan, especially for those who can’t drive their kids to school.

And Silva doesn’t take the idea of students changing schools lightly.

She said that only about 8 percent of students will have to change schools. And those students will still have, on average, 22 school choices.

“Change is hard for everybody,” Silva said. “I think it’s most the time harder for the adults than the children.”

Early on, critics charged that the change would increase segregation in schools. At EXPO, for example, they’d likely see fewer Hmong students and more Somali kids.

In response to that charge, Silva says officials are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“As a system, if we know this is going to be the effect, we’re flexible,” she said.

Some families won’t switch schools, and they have organized carpools.

Parents have until Friday to apply to the school they want their kids to attend.

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