Nine-12 high school back on the table in District 191
Would require building addition
School District 191 is taking a fresh look at a familiar idea: adding ninth grade to the district’s high school program.
That’s a key recommendation from Superintendent Randy Clegg in response to a School Board request for ideas on closing a school and/or consolidating facilities to save money.
Clegg also recommends closing the Burnsville High School Senior Campus in 2014 and holding all senior classes at the main campus.
Switching to a 9-12 high school would be a longer process, requiring a 40,000-square-foot building addition estimated at $12 million.
“This is a five- to 10-year examination, building consensus within the community, costing it out. … You’d have to have a bond referendum for this,” Clegg told the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School Board at a Sept. 6 workshop.
Proceeds from eventually selling Diamondhead “may offset a good chunk” of the cost of the addition, Clegg said.
He recommended against closing one of the district’s 10 elementary schools. The estimated savings would be $300,000 to $400,000 — a relatively small chunk of the $15 million the district is trying to wring from its budgets over a three-year period.
And either of two options for closing an elementary — closing a smaller school and keeping a K-6 configuration or going to a K-5 configuration and putting sixth-graders at the junior highs — would stretch building capacity and leave little flexibility for housing students, according to Clegg.
Closing an elementary would be “highly disruptive” and force wholesale boundary changes across the district, Clegg said.
Board Chair Ron Hill called the option “unacceptable.”
Board members agreed to further study the recommendations, including the 9-12 high school, an idea that Clegg said has been kicking around the district for several years.
Many Burnsville High teachers say they’d welcome the change, he said.
“All of our other conference (South Suburban Conference) schools are 9-12,” Clegg said.
Academic content across the three junior highs isn’t uniform, which frustrates for some of the high school teachers, particularly in vocational education, Clegg said.
Ninth-graders at the newly configured high school would have their own “house,” Clegg said.
“Our high school leadership is very confident they can create a good environment for, particularly, freshmen,” he said.
Hill welcomed the idea of a 9-12 high school.
“If one of our goals is equity, alignment of curriculum, etc. — those are our goals — this is a way to meet those,” he said.
Under a 9-12 high school of 2,900 students, administrators envision maintaining K-6 elementary schools, maintaining two junior highs with seventh and eighth grades, and consolidating several district programs at the centrally located Nicollet Junior High in Burnsville. The programs are Early Childhood Special Education, Community Education, the Burnsville Area Learning Center and the district offices.
Diamondhead would be sold, Cedar School in Eagan would be sold or leased and the current Administrative Services Center would be sold.
The district could save $837,120 a year in operation costs, administrators estimate.
The shorter-term prospect of closing the senior campus is also a familiar idea in the district, Clegg said.
Closing the campus where seniors spend half their day would make scheduling easier for the high school and eliminate transportation of students between the two campuses, Clegg said.
Some might bemoan the loss of what Clegg called the “unique aspect” of the seniors-only campus.
But both campuses have excess capacity. Main campus utilization is at 65 percent, with 60 percent at the senior campus, according to administrators.
With 2,160 students in grades 10 through 12, the main campus would reach 93 percent utilization if the senior campus were closed.
Magnets, school choice
Clegg also recommended further study of his “controlled-choice” enrollment plan, which could involve new magnet schools.
Under controlled choice, families would be placed in an east or west cluster, each with five schools, and would have to choose one of them. Each school would be built around a theme.
The goal is to balance building utilization and student demographics across the district. Some elementaries have enrollments above capacity, and some are below. William Byrne Elementary in Burnsville, a popular STEM school, is at 130 percent of capacity.
Some schools have much higher concentrations of poorer and minority students than others under the current attendance-boundary configuration and the ability of children to leave their home school for a magnet.
“Magnets have actually concentrated poverty in some schools and reduced diversity in other schools,” Clegg said.
Concentrated poverty “does make the job (of educating) more difficult — there’s just no question about it,” he said.
Parents would make ranked choices for their school.
“In many cases, I suspect most families would get their first choice,” Clegg said.
Administrators are suggesting clusters of Sky Oaks, Gideon Pond, William Byrne, Sioux Trail and Rahn on the east, and Harriet Bishop, Hidden Valley, Marion W. Savage, Edward Neill and Vista View on the west.
One scenario would draw the line at Interstate 35W, while another would have three cross-freeway neighborhoods per cluster.