BY Paul Groessel
Sun POST Newspapers
Osseo Area Schools has approved district-wide grade reconfiguration for its elementary, junior high and senior high schools.
The Independent School District 279 School Board approved the shift to pre-k (or kindergarten for some buildings) through 5th grade elementary schools, 6th-8th grade middle schools and 9th-12th grade high schools on March 18.
The shift will begin during the 2015-16 school year. To prevent any school enrollment boundary changes to district neighborhoods caused by the grade changes, the school board approved $13.5 million in additions to the district’s three high schools.
Supt. Kate Maguire and executive administrators presented the grade shift as a preliminary recommendation in December. The grade change was considered because of space requirements for an all-day kindergarten expansion. The state Legislature approved state funding for all-day kindergarten last year. Expanding all-day kindergarten programming has been a district priority since 2007, so the state funding prompted the district’s decision to expand all-day kindergarten beginning next school year. Elementary schools have a one-year plan to meet the increased space needs, the district has said.
In the long-term, the administrators wanted to review the entire district’s building space and grade configuration rather than just adding more space to the elementary schools, Maguire said.
“I wanted to make sure that we thought through our options carefully,” Maguire said.
Creating a middle school grade structure with 9-12th grade high schools would match most of the other state school districts, and it would better align high school credit and graduation requirements, Maguire said.
In January, three public information sessions and two staff sessions about the change were held. Based on feedback from those sessions, the school board preferred the three high schools’ expansion over other space-creation options. Much of the feedback indicated that community members did not want to disrupt the established school boundary assignments, administrators said.
The $13.5 million in school expansions will be funded through a lease levy that would equate to an $18 per year increase for taxpayers who own a median-value home, according to administrators.
The school board approved the grade shift 5-1, with board member Dean Henke voting against it.
With students coming into the district with a range of preparation, the benefits of all-day kindergarten will vary from one family to another, Henke said.
He understood the feedback about not changing enrollment assignments, and he said students will benefit from a grade shift. However, given the fall voter approval of two tax levies, he would like to see some operational funds spent on the high school expansions.
The piece that causes the most concern to him is staffing, he said. The language in teacher contracts will make it difficult for administrators, principals and some staff to develop the most effective school staffing plan, especially with the ongoing contract issues, he said.
“With some of these concerns right at this moment, I’m not able to support the recommendation,” Henke said before voting on the grade shift.
School Board Chairperson Teresa Lunt said the benefits of the grade configuration change outweigh the challenges.
The district will not take lightly the impacts on people, but the district is doing what’s best for the long-term viability for parents, students and the district, she said.
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