Councilors pan Coleman’s library plan

Members of the St. Paul City Council Wednesday criticized Mayor Chris Coleman’s proposal to reduce hours at Central Library and use the money to expand a program that helps parents put their kids on the path to college.

Coleman’s 2013 budget includes a $200,000 contribution to Parent Academy, a program run by St. Paul Public Schools. That’s almost exactly how much Coleman proposes to save by closing the downtown library on Mondays.

“We’re spending development money like crazy to bring new people downtown, and the first thing they’ll hear now is that they don’t have access to their library on Monday nights — or Mondays period — because we’re doing some homework sessions,” said Council Member Dave Thune, whose ward includes downtown.

Library Director Kit Hadley said the mayor wants to reduce hours at Central, because it is the most expensive building in the system to operate. It’s currently open noon to 8 p.m. on Mondays.

“It’s not ever a good thing to close any library, but when you are faced with a tough budget you have to make tough decisions,” Coleman’s Communications Director Joe Campbell said. “We really do believe that Parent Academies are successful, that they are important for our community, and they help close the achievement gap.”

More than 900 parents have completed the free, eight-week course since the district started offering it last spring at some 50 sites around the city.

All the funding so far has come from a federal grant for schools with high rates of poverty.

The city’s proposed contribution would allow Parent Academies to expand to six schools located in wealthier neighborhoods, according to Jackie Turner, who oversees the academies for the school district. She estimated that would help an additional 300 parents a year learn how to get their kids into college.

But several council members balked at sending city money to the school district.

“There is absolutely no arguing that the Parent Academy is a really good and valuable tool, but there is just no way that I think that the city should be paying for something that the school district is doing,” Council President Kathy Lantry said.

The council members discussed the proposal while serving in their capacity as the city’s Library Board. Board chair Russ Stark, who also expressed skepticism about the mayor’s proposal, doesn’t expect a vote on the academies or the library hours until December.

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