District 191 School Board will consider boundary changes

Boundary, school-choice plans
expected by June

School Board members signaled their willingness Feb. 21 to consider school boundary changes in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District 191.

Superintendent Randy Clegg will prepare recommendations for new boundaries that would take effect in 2014-15. He’ll also prepare a plan for allowing families to choose their elementary school. The recommendations are expected in June.

Boundary changes have been a theme throughout many board discussions over the last six months, Board Member Ron Hill said. Those discussions have focused on imbalances between schools – in enrollment and racial and economic makeup – and on possibly sweeping changes in district facility use.

“It appears that (boundary changes) is something that’s going to have to be done or acted on as soon as possible so we can be ready for the 2014-15 school year,” Hill said in a Feb. 21 board workshop.

The district hasn’t changed boundaries since 1996, when redrawn lines accompanied the opening of a 10th elementary school, Harriet Bishop in Savage.

Today, enrollments range from 130 percent of capacity at William Byrne (a STEM magnet school) and 112 percent at Harriet Bishop (a gifted and talented magnet) to 83 percent at Edward Neill and 84 percent at Marion W. Savage.

Schools’ socioeconomic profiles have grown imbalanced. In a district whose elementary schools average 50 percent of students qualifying for free or subsidized lunch, there’s a vast difference between the poorest (Sky Oaks, at 77 percent) and the least poor (Harriet Bishop, at 21 percent).

Even if the board adopts a school-choice plan, new boundaries are needed first, Clegg said.

“I think the attendance boundaries will address many of the tensions right now that exist,” he said.

Over time, freer movement of families between schools could make the boundaries less important, he said. Clegg has recommended east and west clusters of five schools each from which parents on each side of the district would choose.

The board’s last look at boundary changes involved new lines that would have sent 774 elementary students to different schools. The plan, recommended by a board-appointed facilities task force, was dropped in early 2010 after a wave of parent protest.

Clegg is also preparing a set of elementary-school boundary guidelines, a recent draft of which calls for no school with 10 percent more or fewer free and subsidized meal students than the district average.

It also calls for allowing students to remain in their current school until they complete its top grade.

The superintendent, who is retiring June 30, has given the board much to consider beyond attendance boundaries and school choice.

Since last fall, he has also proposed adding ninth grade to Burnsville High School, closing the high school’s senior campus at Diamondhead Education Center and selling the building, maintaining two junior highs (grades seven and eight) instead of three, and consolidating several district programs at the centrally located Nicollet Junior High in Burnsville.

The expanded high school program would require a building addition and bond referendum, according to Clegg.