The St. Paul school board voted 5-1 Tuesday night to rename one of the district's elementary schools "Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary."
The vote came after board members received intense feedback about the proposed change -- most of it negative -- from community members.
Students, staff and community members at Webster Magnet Elementary voted earlier this month to change the school's name. Webster is in its first year of a service learning program, and the school wanted a new name to reflect the shift in focus.
"We talk about, so often, that what we do is for the children, for kids," said board member Tom Goldstein. "Our job is to inspire kids, and these kids got inspired. They went to the trouble to process and pick this name. They could have picked ... George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King, they could have picked Sojourner Truth, they didn't. They were inspired by Barack Obama."
Tom Conlon, the board's lone Republican, opposed the change. The school's history "is being taken away from them," said Conlon, who had suggested that the school name a room or part of the school after Obama, "and I think that's tragic."
About a dozen community members spoke to the board about the name changing, voicing opinions ranging from calling Obama a socialist, to suggesting that the board wait until he is out of office to change the name, to saying that becoming the first African-American president is a worthy enough accomplishment to name a school after him.
Citizen Jeanne Anne LaRose opposed the change.
"President Obama has been in office less than four months and he has no legacy," she said, "It appears the renaming is a political statement."
The school's site council, made up of parents and community members, put the Obama name and "Webster Service Learning Elementary" on the ballot. Students, staff and St. Paul residents were invited to cast ballots. The Obama name came away with roughly 60 percent of the 854 votes cast.
It is meant to honor the Obamas' commitment to service learning, Principal Lori Simon said.
According to district policy, new school names, programs, mascots and logos "shall reflect the diversity of the district," and need to be approved by the school board "in consultation with the school community." Board chairwoman Kazoua Kong-Thao has said that the board will now look more closely at that policy.
Emily Johns • 612-673-7460