Pay Your Fair Share So That Every Child Can Have the School They Deserve

Macalester President Brian Rosenberg and St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan

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Macalester and the University of St. Thomas own properties in Saint Paul that are worth a total of almost $550 million, and which are completely exempt from property taxes.  If they paid taxes on this property at the standard rate, it would be enough for the Saint Paul Public Schools to hire 40 desperately needed teachers, counselors, psychologists, nurses, or social workers.

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To: Macalester President Brian Rosenberg and St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan
From: [Your Name]

Public schools are unique because we educate all students, regardless of their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status, or ability. As public school supporters, we believe that every student should have the opportunity to learn and to thrive. That is why we are calling on Macalester and St. Thomas to enter into negotiations with Saint Paul Public Schools administrators, teachers, and students to pay your fair share, so that every child in Saint Paul can succeed.

In March, Saint Paul Public Schools announced a $23 million budget deficit. Because of declining state and national investment in our public schools, these deficits have happened annually in Saint Paul. Every year, the district comes up with a short term bandage that gets us through to the next year, but continual budget cuts are taking their toll. Many of our students lack access to school nurses, mental health professionals, and programs that adults took for granted when they were in school, like art, music, and PE.

These cuts are felt most deeply at schools which are largely comprised of students of color. The systematic disinvestment in our public schools only makes it harder for educators to provide racially equitable education for every student. This disparity between students of color and their white peers is not just found in academics. Under-staffing our schools and our decision to not invest in our children disproportionately impacts children of color, especially African-American boys. School suspensions, increase the likelihood of a student dropping out of school, which makes them more likely to end up in the school to prison pipeline.

Luckily, parents and educators know what programs we need so that our schools work for every student. Our schools will only improve when we address the needs of the whole child, focusing not just on their minds, but on their health, relationships, and environments. We need to fund programs to build authentic connections between families and educators, such as the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, which breaks down assumptions and implicit bias. We need to change the way that members of our school communities relate to one another through restorative practices and intentional relationship building, so that students, families, and staff all feel safe and welcome in our schools. We also must make sure our schools are fully staffed so our students have access to the services they need.

We know what we need to provide racially equitable public education here in Saint Paul, but we need help to pay for it. Macalester and St. Thomas own some of the most valuable property in Saint Paul, yet as non-profits, your institutions are exempt from paying property taxes. However, in many ways, you operate more like for-profit corporations and should contribute financially to the well-being of our city and its residents. Cities and school districts around the country have worked out agreements with local universities regarding voluntary Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) in places like Boston and Pittsburgh. We are calling on you to work out an agreement between your institutions and Saint Paul Public Schools to pay your fair share so that our public schools work for each and every student in Saint Paul.