St. Paul Public Schools considers closing five schools due to enrollment decline

The district also estimates that it will continue to see a drop in kindergarten enrollment, which it blames on declining birth rates.

Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary in St. Paul, one of five schools the district is considering closing. (Wikimedia Commons)

St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) is considering closing a total of five schools due to declining enrollment.

SPPS leadership is recommending the closure of Highwood Hills Elementary School, LEAP High School, John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary, Wellstone Elementary, and Jackson Elementary School.

Additionally, Barack and Michelle Obama Elementary would be temporarily closed until 2025 and repurposed as a Montessori and middle-school building.

These proposals fall under a new plan called “Envision SPPS,” which recommends a host of other changes, including a new policy for under-enrolled schools that would require their enrichment opportunities, such as field trips, to be provided after school instead of during the school day due to “disparities and inequities in access.”

According to a slideshow presented to the St. Paul Board of Education Monday, 13 of the district’s schools are functioning inefficiently, meaning they are utilizing less than 70% of their space and resources. Four of these schools are operating at less than 50% utilization.

“The reality is, we have too many schools and not enough students or staff who can serve them and provide the well-rounded education we all know they need and deserve,” said Superintendent Joe Gothard.

“It is not a result of the pandemic and it is not a major cost-saving measure for the district. While it will create some efficiencies, at its core it’s about making all of our schools sustainable,” he added.

Minnesota as a whole saw a decrease of 17,000 students from the 2019-20 to the 2020-21 school year. This decrease applied to SPPS, which lost almost 1,500 students during that time, contributing to the loss of over 3,500 students between 2014 and 2020.

The district also estimates that it will continue to see a drop in kindergarten enrollment, which it blames on declining birth rates.

SPPS has a graduation rate of around 75%, compared to the statewide rate of 83%. The district is responsible for educating around 62% of total children living in St. Paul

Earlier this year, SPPS called for an end to school suspensions, citing “racial inequities.” In 2019, the district settled a $525,000 lawsuit with a teacher who spoke out against the district’s use of racial quotas.

The board is expected to vote on the school closures in November.