Coleman talks education, Saints ballpark

/ 26 March 2012 / jennifer

Rochelle Olson, Star Tribune, March 26, 2012 –

Mayor wants to expand parents’ program for St. Paul schools.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman delivered a wide-ranging State of the City address Monday, focusing on topics from education to a redoubled push for a Lowertown ballpark for the St. Paul Saints.

In the emotional high point, Coleman singled out two students, Anne Sinner and Lashay Thompson, who had overcome tragic childhoods to excel in school.

Sinner, a senior at Como Park High School, was accepted to Carleton College last week. Her childhood included an abusive, imprisoned father, an absent mother and a murdered cousin.

Thompson will attend Clark Atlanta University this fall. She overcame abuse at the hands of her mother’s crack dealer, the death of her mother to cancer and the loss of a loving foster father in a car crash.

“We celebrate these amazing stories of survival,” Coleman said. “But as a community, we have to change the odds for our children.”

Coleman called education the most important thrust of his administration. He provided a broad look at the successes and challenges as he sees them during a 40-minute speech to a friendly crowd of about 200 at the J.J. Hill Reference Library inside the St. Paul Central Library.

He announced plans to spend $300,000 to expand the Parent Academy in city schools. The district already enrolls 750 parents in the program during the academic year, teaching them in their native languages how to help their children do better.

The city schools ran a pilot program last year. This year, 20 schools participated in the program funded through a $100,000 federal grant for low-income students.

“Just as a child’s education is not solely the responsibility of schools, neither is support for parents,” Coleman said.

Even though the mayor doesn’t control the schools, City Council Member Russ Stark said the emphasis is appropriate. “The idea that the school district can’t do everything is right on,” he said.

In his speech, the mayor singled Stark out for his push for streetcars, which the city is currently studying. Coleman also spoke of the Central Corridor light-rail transit lines, saying that most major traffic disruptions on University Avenue should be over by the end of the year.

Keeping businesses along the line open during construction received mention as one of the city’s challenges, which also include the collapse of the housing market, loss of the signature manufacturer Ford Motor Co, erosion of local government aid and the achievement gap in schools.

He offered a morsel of good news: a handshake agreement with the St. Paul Port Authority on a land swap for the proposed Lowertown ballpark. “We’ll own the land, now let’s build a ballpark,” he said.

Gov. Mark Dayton included $27 million for the ballpark in his proposed bonding bill, but the GOP-controlled Legislature also must pass a bill. If the Legislature includes the ballpark in the bonding bill, Coleman said construction could begin this spring.

“We’re so close. We’re so close, but we must redouble our efforts in coming weeks,” Coleman said.

Saints President Mike Veeck wasn’t making predictions. “I’m a baseball guy through and through. I’m as superstitious as they come. They say we’re in good shape, but we’re not presumptuous here. I hope this is where we are. After 4 1/2 years, I’m tired,” Veeck said.

The Saints say their current home, Midway Stadium, is antiquated, undersized and uncomfortable. They also say they won’t raise ticket prices in a new ballpark.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson