BY Paul Groessel
Sun POST Newspapers
The Independent School District 279 School Board could vote on a district-wide grade reconfiguration within the next couple of months. That’s the timeline that Supt. Kate Maguire said the district would need to make the grade reconfiguration changes for the 2015-16 school year.
During a work session on Feb. 10, the school board reviewed parent’s and community member’s input from feedback sessions about a possible transition to K-5th grade elementary schools, 6-8th grade middle schools and 9-12th grade high schools. The school board also discussed six grade reconfiguration options that administrators said resulted from that feedback.
“Ultimately, we want to figure out what are some best next steps to take to move this conversation forward,” Maguire said.
Communication-Community Relations Director Barb Olson said approximately 250 people attended community information sessions on the potential grade changes, with a total of approximately 160 written responses from multiple channels. The majority of the feedback was from parents of currently enrolled students, Olson said, but there were some feedback from community members and staff.
There were some feedback on both extremes, those for and against the grade reconfiguration changes, but most opinions fell in the middle, she said. Many wanted to know more information, and the potential impact on school boundaries was the most critical concern for many who provided feedback, Olson said. Some suggested adding space to other high schools, not only Osseo Senior High School as the district has proposed. Others said they could not provide an opinion on the changes until they know more information.
“So in summary, there is considerable support for the idea of grade reconfiguration,” Olson said about the sample, which she said was not from a formal survey of the entire district, only from those who provided feedback. “… But that support is conditional, and until people have more information, particularly related to any potential boundary changes, they would withhold their support.”
The school board also discussed school grade configuration options, several of which were drafted after the January community input sessions. One option included keeping the current grade configuration and adding space to two elementary schools at a cost of $4 million, which would require boundary changes for 7-11 elementary schools, according to the meeting presentation.
The other five options assumed boundary changes would occur. Those options included adding space to one, two or all three high schools. Another option was to add space to Osseo Senior High School and Park Center Senior High School while developing specialized online classes at Maple Grove Senior High School, where students may not have to attend school all-day, everyday, according to administrators.
Another option, using Brooklyn Junior High School for 9th and 10th grade classes and Park Center High School space for 11th and 12th grade classes, would require moving 1,400 students and was taken out of consideration during the Feb. 10 meeting.
Adding space to more high schools would require fewer boundary changes, according to the option summaries. Adding space to one high school, Osseo Senior High, would relocate an estimated 400 students, while adding space at two high schools would require some boundary relocations from one school. If space is added to all three high schools, administrators believe no significant boundary changes would be required.
Grade reconfiguration costs include $6.5 million for adding space to one high school, $9 million for adding on to two high schools and $13.5 million for adding on to all three high schools. The financing would be through a lease levy, with some tax increases.
Adding space to two high schools and implementing blended online programs would cost an estimated $9 million, according to the presentation.
Adding space to one high school would cost approximately $9 per year in taxes for a home valued $200,000, according to Assistant Supt. Kim Riesgraf, while adding on to three high schools would cost the same household approximately $18 per year.
Overall, School board members’ initial discussion showed support for changing the district’s grade structure, with early support for adding space to three high schools, pending more information.
School board member Dean Henke said after the feedback sessions, it was clear that families connect with the schools that they progress through while living in the district.
“These are our different communities,” Henke said. “… They kind of feed into very specific schools, and that’s how people resonate with the schools.”
When planning for grade changes overall, the district may look at balancing among three high schools as the most efficient process, but adding space to three high schools, which was listed as option 2c on the meeting documents, may provide families the most high school attendance flexibility, he said.
“So, knowing that our parents and students kind of resonate with a high school, I’m more inclined to look at option C,” Henke said.
Board members Jim Burgett and Tammie Epley said they also liked the option of adding space to all three high schools, but they would like see more details about the proposal.
Board member Jacki Girtz said expanding two high schools and bolstering online classes at Maple Grove was a creative idea that could make the district a forerunner in blending online learning with classroom instruction.
She said she did not like the cost of expanding all three high schools, since it would not be fair to all taxpayers in the school district.
“I just have a really hard time doing the $13.5 million,” she said.
School board chair Teresa Lunt said she is in favor of expanding the three high schools.
“Yes, it is the highest tax impact, but I think it’s the most responsive based on what we’ve heard from feedback from our families and community members,” she said.
An initial schedule had a Feb. 25 school board meeting set for a final decision, but administrators will begin gathering further details based on the school board’s feedback.
Maguire said to enact a grade reconfiguration change for the 2015-16 school year, the board would have to make a decision within the next couple of months.
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