As districts shuffle students, schools change for themby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The St. Paul and Minneapolis school districts moved several schools and closed buildings this year to help balance their budgets, and accomodating the changes has required more than your usual summertime school building maintenance.
Thousands of students in both districts will attend the same school they did last year, but they'll be in a new location.
The districts moved several schools and closed buildings this year to help balance their budgets. In St. Paul, one building that housed seventh and eighth graders last year will house Pre-K through sixth graders this year.
Principal Delores Henderson remembers telling her students earlier this spring they'd get to use lockers when they return to school this fall.
"I could not calm them down about the lockers, all they could think about was 'Lockers!'" she said.
The lockers are a huge deal because they're usually for the older kids, like those that attended Hazel Park School last year on St. Paul's east side.
This year, Hazel Park will be a school for Pre-K through sixth graders, but the lockers are staying. Of course, that raised another issue for Henderson.
"We're kind of concerned about our kindergartners and first graders getting inside the lockers and no one knowing they're in there," Henderson said. "So we'll probably assign just second graders through sixth grade with the lockers at this point."
Such are the decisions of a principal moving into a new school.
The St. Paul School Board voted this spring to close schools and move students as part of a larger plan to balance a budget more than $20 million in the red. In some cases, students from two schools will move into one building under what's called 'co-location.'
That's what's happening at Hazel Park. The middle schoolers who were there last year will be co-located elsewhere this year, and Hazel Park will house both Ames and Sheridan Elementary Schools. The Ames and Sheridan buildings will close.
So now, some of the things that made Hazel Park a middle school have to be changed to make it an elementary school. That's where plumber Mike Muske comes in.
He's spent the summer at Hazel Park, installing toilets. The district tries to put bathrooms in any room that houses kindergarteners or pre-kindergartners so they don't have to leave for a potty break.
Other changes made this summer to make Hazel Park an elementary building included carpeting in those kindergarten rooms, building a new playground, replacing all those middle school library books with elementary books, and going through and covering all graffiti in the lockers. You wouldn't necessarily want third grade eyes reading something a seventh-grader wrote, would you?
Principal Henderson also expects to make a decision about school uniforms in coming weeks. Last year, Ames students had them; Sheridan kids did not.
"Some of the parents at Sheridan have already called and said they want their children to wear uniforms," Henderson says. "The only thing about that is when you go uniforms the first year, you have to make sure the students who can't afford them -- the school will supply them. So have I to check the budget."
The closures and co-locations in St. Paul are expected to save the district about $2.5 million. There are some costs related to getting schools ready for their new purpose.
The Hazel Park fixes will run an estimated $400,450 and will be paid from the district's capital budget. For Chuck Repke, that's a small price to pay to still have a school on the city's eastside.
Repke heads the Community Council district that includes the area. The original plan was to also close Hazel Park. That would have meant four schools within two miles of each other closing and all those students being bussed to other parts of St. Paul.
Repke said the process has been frustrating, but at least the final plan left one of those four buildings open and puts kids from two of the other schools there.
"I think there's more relief that at least the younger kids are going to be able to stay in the area, and they're going to be able to be at a place where the parents physically can see the school," Repke said.
These kinds of changes are also happening in Minneapolis, where at least four buildings are closing and schools are co-locating. And this probably isn't the end.
Even as this current crop of closures was being approved this spring in St. Paul, Superintendent Valeria Silva warned next year's budget also has a deficit, and more closures and co-locations are likely.
- Morning Edition, 08/19/2010, 7:25 a.m.