Dist. 728 board will turn to schools, community for input on crowding

Financing members say its time to assemble committees

by Jim Boyle

Elk River Star News


The Elk River Area School Board resumed its discussions of student enrollment and building capacities.

Board members even looked at financing options to correct issues of crowding at several schools and equity across the district. With the help of equalization aid from the state and precipitous drops in the level of school district debt in the coming years, there are several ways the district could deal with space and equity issues without big changes to tax statements, according Ehlers and Associates, the district’s financial advisers.

But before going on record with any favored course of action or pulling anything off the table of discussion, members of the board and the administration agreed to step back and gather some school and community input.

After hearing that four schools in the district are operating at more than 110 percent of capacity and that several others are approaching this dubious milestone, members were reminded of an attendance zone policy that triggers the formation of committees at schools when such capacity issues are broached.

This policy on attendance zones was established several years ago in hopes of creating a smoother process for assessing building capacity issues and considering controversial boundary line changes. It calls for involving individual schools and the community.

The committees are to be led by building principals and include one district administrator, two teachers and six community members. When more than one school has reached 110 percent capacity, more schools and committees and be formed to help develop multi-school approaches to solve crowding.

While no one on the board or in administration has advocated for changing boundary lines, all agreed it was time to reach out to the public before it went any further with its own discussions of enrollment growth and crowding.

“The more input we get from constituents, communities and families, the more success we will have in the long run,” Board Member Holly Thompson said.

Superintendent Mark Bezek agreed it was the right thing to do.

“Every time I have gone out (to the public) predicting growth, I have gotten killed in elections,” Bezek said. “It’s not until the villagers come with pitch forks and torches and say we need the space that we have success.”

Greg Hein, the district’s director of business and finance, said that taking a step back could prevent the district from being able to open new spaces in time for the start of the 2015 school year. It was agreed that portable classrooms will be among the components that committees will have to consider.

Charlie Blesener, the district’s director of community engagement, said finding space for early education by next fall will be needed to, if Rogers is going to continue to service an early childhood population.

Discussions about facilities and enrollment this fall intensified after a surge in growth over the summer and into the fall as well as a move to all-day, every-day kindergarten and the rising profile of early education programming that is being squeezed out of the north and south areas of the school district due to space constraints.

Portable classrooms are one of the quicker fixes that have been broached by members of the board. Changes to attendance zones have not generated much interest and what little classrooms remain in the district have been swallowed up by programming and intervention programs in the school district, according to Joe Stangler, the director of testing and assessment for the district.

He told the board there are rooms that could be used as classrooms, but to use them would come at a cost of having to relocate other programs that have employed those spaces.