Changes eyed for
Superintendent Randy Clegg senses that opposition to redrawing school attendance boundaries is softening in District 191.
He based his conclusion on three public meetings last month that he said featured far more constructive dialogue than blunt opposition. Those meetings and others introduced parents and teachers to boundary options for the 2014-15 school year being crafted by a team of administrators.
“I think there’s a better sense among those who participated that something has to happen,” Clegg told the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School Board at a June 6 workshop.
The board won’t encounter “the gnashing of teeth” that greeted a boundary-change proposal several years ago, Clegg predicted.
The board will hold another boundary workshop in August, beginning deliberations on the first elementary-school boundary changes in 17 years.
Since then, wide disparities have grown in building occupancy rates and concentrations of poor and minority students. District-granted enrollment variances and magnet school choices have deepened the gulfs.
Faced with widespread parent protest, the board in March 2010 decided against a board-appointed task force’s plan that could have sent up to 774 elementary students to different schools.
District 191 hasn’t changed boundaries since opening Harriet Bishop Elementary in Savage in 1996. Meanwhile, “many of our neighboring districts have gone through this process almost on a regular basis,” Clegg said.
Sky Oaks Elementary in Burnsville now has 73 percent of its student qualifying for free or reduced-price meals. The school has been declared “racially identifiable” by the state Department of Education, but one could say the same thing about Harriet Bishop, except it’s mostly white, Clegg said.
Building occupancy rates range from 129 percent of capacity at the popular William Byrne Elementary STEM magnet to 81 percent at Marion W. Savage.
The administrative boundary team is focusing on two options.
One would move 1,449 students while maintaining the district’s traditional K-6 grade configuration. That plan aims to create contiguous boundaries, rather than the current patchwork of boundary lines.
The other would pair sets of two schools, with kindergarten through third grade at one school and fourth through sixth grades at the other. Such an arrangement could include some boundary changes. Marion W. Savage and Rahn, which are at the far ends of the district, would remain K-6 schools.
K-6 is preferred by most of the participants at last month’s three public meetings. In a preference poll, 47 favored K-6 while 27 favored grade reconfiguration.
But there’s another option, Clegg said: creating K-5 elementary schools, middle schools for sixth through eighth grades and a high school for ninth through 12th grades. He had earlier recommended the board consider adding on to Burnsville High School to accommodate the extra grade and shutting down the school’s senior campus at Diamondhead Education Center.
Burnsville is one of only 10 Minnesota high schools that still has the traditional 10-12 grade configuration, Clegg said.
Clegg, who is retiring from the district on June 30, has also recommended the board consider “managed choice” enrollment, with parents choosing one school from within a clusters of schools, each with its own magnet theme.
The district is considering boundary changes against the backdrop of rising enrollment after years of decline.
A new, district-commissioned study by former state demographer Hazel Reinhardt projects growth of 750 students, mostly elementary students, over the next 10 years, with the greatest growth coming in the second five years, Clegg said.
Reinhardt projects the district’s low-income student enrollment to grow from about 50 percent to about 55 percent, Clegg said.
“So we’re really looking more like Richfield, Bloomington, some of the other first-ring suburbs that have gone through this transformation,” he said.
Reinhardt said the free all-day kindergarten the district began offering this year was a “game-changer” in retaining students whose families might have sent them elsewhere, according to Clegg.
The district’s kindergarten enrollment this school year was 160 students higher than expected, only 60 of whom open enrolled from another district, he said.