BY Paul Groessel
Sun POST Newspapers
After months of consideration, Osseo Area Schools Supt. Kate Maguire and the executive administrators have recommended to the school board that the district change its overall grade reconfiguration to a middle school model that would include ninth to 12th grade high schools beginning in the 2015-16 school year.
The school board expects to vote on a formal motion during its March 18 school board meeting. The board wants to make the change without making drastic school assignment changes for families. This would likely mean adding space to three high schools at cost of $13.5 million, or $18 per year for a typical district household, administrators said.
“I’m confident that we will be able to make the necessary changes both in physical structure and programming and logistics,” Maguire said. “… I do not make this recommendation lightly.”
Financing was one of the largest considerations, but the impact on students, staff and others was a primary concern, she said.
“I don’t take that lightly at all,” she said.
A review of the district’s use of building space and grade structure began last year when the Minnesota State Legislature passed a bill funding all-day kindergarten programming. Implementing all-day kindergarten has been a district priority since 2007, Maguire said, so the district plans on implementing it next year with state funding.
The district’s building space needs were reviewed because all-day kindergarten would require additional classrooms. Rather than simply adding more space to school buildings, administrators wanted to review the overall grade structure, Maguire said.
The district is mainly comprised of pre-K through 6th grade elementary schools, seventh to ninth grade junior high schools and 10th to 12th grade high schools. The district has considered changing the grade structure in the past, but leaders lacked a clear need or driving force for the conversion. The all-day kindergarten space needs could be a legitimate reason for the change, Maguire said.
Maguire and administrators presented the grade-change proposal during a Dec. 17 meeting, with a preliminary recommendation to switch the district to a grade structure that would include K to fifth grade elementary schools, sixth to eighth grade middle schools and ninth to 12th grade high schools.
“Changing grade spans would relieve space pressures at the elementary level, primarily related to expansion of all-day kindergarten, and would provide better alignment for ninth-graders related to graduation requirements, curriculum and high school activities,” according to a summary on the district website.
Expanding one of three high schools, Osseo Senior High School, was one initial proposal. It would cost $6.5 million, according to administrators’ estimates. Maintaining the current grade structure with an all-day kindergarten expansion would have required $4 million in elementary school expansions and boundary assignments for 7-11 elementary schools, administrators said.
The districts’ preliminary proposal was taken to residents during public meetings, most of which took place late December through early February. Feedback from meetings and other channels brought about proposal revisions and more facility options that were presented to the board last month.
One of those options include an expansion of all three high schools rather than one high school, which would prevent drastic enrollment boundary changes.
If three high schools are expanded, parents could continue sending their children through the chain of schools they are familiar with or have planned on attending, administrators and school board members said.
Adding space to three high schools would cost approximately $13.5 million, paid for through a lease levy, which would cost approximately $18 per year for a typical homeowner in the district, according to administrators.
During the March 4 meeting, administrators said expanding the three schools would require interior renovations that would cost an additional $4 million to $6 million, but the exact cost and funding source has not yet been pinpointed.
Administrators also shared their curriculum and staff training steps thus far, as well as a planning timeline. School board members permitted administrators to prepare a formal motion to approve the grade reconfiguration for the March 18 school board meeting.
Boardmember Jacki Girtz said the $13.5 million expense for building additions to three high schools, plus the estimated $4 million to $6 million cost for any interior changes to buildings, was difficult to consider because of tax increases for residents, and the total expense was more than she had thought it would be.
She was particularly concerned about families who may be on the cusp of owning a home within the school district, she said.
“But I do think for the long term of our district, it is the right thing to do,” she said.
With the final vote on the grade reconfiguration expected during the March 18 meeting, now is the time for those who still want to weigh in on the matter, said Boardmember Dean Henke.
“This is kind of the last opportunity,” Henke said.
Contact Paul Groessel at [email protected] or follow the Sun Post on Twitter @ECMSunPost.