See more of the story

The St. Paul school board voted Tuesday night to approve a new contract for Superintendent Joe Gothard, putting him at the helm of the state’s second-largest district for another three years — and with an $8,000 pay hike in the first year.

Gothard, who now is in the final year of a three-year deal that paid him $232,000 annually, crafted a new strategic plan a year ago that the district now will aim to stick to as it grapples with enrollment losses and budget pressures.

“I am grateful for your continuing support in my leadership,” Gothard said after the vote. He also thanked his leadership team and the community.

The board approved the contract 6-0, with Mary Vanderwert absent.

Jon Schumacher, who was school board chairman when Gothard was hired, said Gothard is a tireless leader who takes a deliberative approach to decisionmaking.

“I think he’s fulfilled all expectations,” he said.

Gothard took over in July 2017 and won voter approval a year ago for an additional $17.3 million a year for schools. Of that amount, he is investing about $7 million this year in his new strategic plan, SPPS Achieves. Among its goals are efforts to improve the middle schools and create a positive school climate in buildings across the district.

But it took a late infusion of funds this spring from Gov. Tim Walz and state legislators to save the district from racking up a fifth consecutive budget deficit. Signs point to ongoing enrollment woes. This year’s budget predicted a loss of 513 students in 2019-20, and while numbers have yet to be finalized, preliminary counts show the number of students who generate state funding down about 950 from 2018-19.

Elementary schools have taken the brunt of the decline, Gothard said Tuesday.

The district is getting an early start on the 2020-21 budget by seeking to tie spending to specific priorities — a departure from its past practice of using the current budget plus inflation as a starting point. People are being asked to weigh in on priorities and offer ideas on the district’s website.

Academically, math scores were down last year, and reading results up slightly, but Gothard sees the strategic plan as a means “to increase the acceleration in our scores and narrow the large racial and economic gaps that persist,” he said.

A focus on culturally relevant instruction is among the pillars of the SPPS Achieves plan.

The school board’s move to extend Gothard’s tenure was signaled in a performance review in August that gave him positive marks and identified five “key areas of growth” that included strengthening the district’s finances and addressing “ongoing concerns” about the effectiveness of district operations, including the long-range facilities plan.

His new deal takes effect in July. While setting a $240,000 salary, it also makes Gothard eligible for unspecified increases if he receives “satisfactory” evaluations.

Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109