Osseo Area Schools may change schools’ grade structure

All-day K space needs drives the ‘preliminary’ recommendation, Supt. says

BY Paul Groessel

Sun POST Newspapers


Anticipated state funding for all-day kindergarten has renewed Osseo Area Schools’ consideration to shift its schools’ grade configuration.

In the wake of the Minnesota State Legislature’s approval of all-day kindergarten funding, the district plans on expanding its half-day kindergarten programs to full-day, which has been a priority for the district since 2007, according to a Dec. 17 school board work session presentation.

The district will start the kindergarten transition in the next school year, according to the presentation. To accommodate the need for additional classroom space, the district proposed a one-year plan for next year before beginning the transition to a long-term solution in 2015-16 school year, according to the presentation.

The district plans on hiring 18 new kindergarten teachers for the all-day kindergarten expansion. It expects to receive up to $3.5 million in state aid for all-day kindergarten, according to an email from administrators.

During the meeting, Supt. Kate Maguire and her executive team presented two long-term options to accommodate space for the new all-day kindergarten programming.

The first option is maintaining the existing grade structure, repurposing some building space and adding 10,000 square feet to two elementary schools.

The second option incorporates reconfiguring the district’s grade structures and adding 28,000-36,000 square feet to Osseo High School, according to the meeting presentation.

The district’s current structure is Pre-K to sixth grade for elementary schools, grades 7-9 for middle schools and grades 10-12 for high schools. The reconfiguration would shift the district to a structure comprised of K-5 for elementary schools, grades 6-8 for middle schools and grades 9-12 for high schools.

“Both have significant implications, both benefits and challenges,” Maguire said during the school board work session.

Maguire presented the grade reconfiguration as her preferred option or “preliminary recommendation,” pending further research, planning and input from the school board, staff, parents and the public.

The switch would match 70 Minnesota school districts that have grades 6-8 middle schools and grades 9-12 high schools, Maguire said.

It would also allow for more coherent academic and extracurricular programming, and better accommodate high school graduation requirements, she said.

The district studied a possible grade change in 1990 and several years ago, but those committees determined there was not a compelling reason to make the transition, Maguire said.

All-day kindergarten space needs would be a legitimate driver for that change, she said.

“The opportunity to consider this level of change in a school district doesn’t happen very often,” said Communications Director Barb Olson.

If grade configurations remain, the space needed for an all-day kindergarten transition could require attendance boundary changes for 7-10 elementary schools, which would impact approximately 400 students, an estimate that Assistant Supt. Kim Riesgraf emphasized as tentative.

Under a new grade structure, 350-400 students could be impacted, Olson said.

It’s unclear how many teachers would change schools under the grade reconfiguration, Olson said after the meeting.

If the grade reconfiguration occurs, Maguire said she was not minimizing the short-term angst that would come with it, especially the school enrollment changes.

“I would not underestimate the emotion around some of those changes,” Maguire told the school board.

Without a grade change, adding 10,000 square feet to two elementary schools would cost approximately $4 million, according to meeting documents. Expanding Osseo High School under a grade configuration change would cost approximately $6.5 million.

“Any building additions would be funded by lease levy,” Olson said in an email. “ … The lease levy is a financial mechanism available to school districts that we have used in the past, and we would structure the financing so that the tax impact on local taxpayers would stay flat.”

Along with the all-day kindergarten expansion, the district has also studied three schools that do not match the district’s current grade structure.

Cedar Island and Fair Oaks elementary schools are Pre-K to grade 3, which feeds into Oak View Elementary, which is grades 4-6. The grade configuration was put in place in the 2008-09 school year, according to the meeting presentation.

After the current configuration of those three schools was studied, Maguire recommended changing their grade structure to match the other schools, whether the district’s grade configuration remains the same or switches to a pre-K to grade 5 structure. Meetings with parents have taken place to discuss this proposal, and Maguire recommended that the transition for those three schools begin next year school year.


What’s next

After the presentation on Dec. 17, the school board gave Maguire and the executive team direction to continue planning and to seek public input on the proposed options and recommendations.

School Board Chair Dean Henke said he recognized that the majority of the board seemed in favor of continuing the process, and he was open to a grade change, but keeping the existing grade structure would probably work.

School board member Tammie Epley said it would be important to hear from students, staff and families before making the final decision, and board member Jacki Girtz said many questions remained. She saw it as giving direction to move forward to find more information.

According to meeting documents, the tentative schedule is for the school board to discuss public and staff input regarding the grade reconfiguration in February, before a possible vote on Feb. 25. The decision regarding Cedar Island, Fair Oaks and Oak View could take place in January.


Input sessions and feedback

Parents and members of the public will have opportunities to share there thoughts during school board input sessions:

• Jan. 13, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Maple Grove Senior High Forum Room

• Jan. 16, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Osseo Senior High Forum Room

• Jan. 22, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Park Center Senior High Forum Room

People can also provide feedback by emailing [email protected] or submitting a feedback form on the district website, district279.org.

Links to the worksession video and other information is available at bit.ly/1jpampb (link shortened).