The Eden Prairie School Board on Tuesday endorsed a plan to move as many as 1,100 elementary school children to new schools next fall, largely to desegregate the increasingly diverse district.
In a gymnasium packed with 200 people, the board voted 4-3 to let district administrators, led by Superintendent Melissa Krull, move the children to address capacity issues as well as disparate concentrations of students with economic needs. It's expected to result in the district's most extensive boundary changes in a decade.
Eden Prairie's decision has been widely anticipated by metro-area districts facing similar changes in student demographics, as they address the segregation of poverty and race in their schools.
The plan has been strongly opposed by many parents who fear the loss of neighborhood K-4 schools. While voicing public protests, they had urged school leaders to come up with a better plan.
At the meeting, board member Chuck Mueller addressed calls to delay approval of a plan, saying, "Our kids are the ones to ultimately suffer. To not act and consider this, I would think, is irresponsible."
Board members who voted against the district's evidence backing the plan said it wasn't because they were against a plan to integrate schools, but rather that they don't believe this is the right way to do that. Some also questioned if the changes will be sustainable.
"There are other options out there," said board member Ranee Jacobus, who voted against it.
Board member John Estall said, "I don't think this is going to fix our problems."
The school district expects to release a new boundary map by Jan. 15.
In Eden Prairie, home to 9,700 students, district administrators say they need to balance uneven capacity in schools and reduce a more than 33 percent gap among elementary schools in the number of low-income students.
The plan, championed by Krull, would move grades five and six from an intermediate school into K-4 elementary schools. Boundary lines would be redrawn to balance concentrations of poverty, which aligns with race.
At Tuesday night's meeting, two petitions were presented to the board -- one in favor of the plan, the other against it.
Parent Ahmed Jama was the only person to speak on behalf of the plan. "We need to change in order to educate all of our students," he said.
About six parents spoke against it, pleading with the board to rethink other options to integrate the district and close the achievement gap while keeping schools K-4. "There's many other things we could do to close the gap," said parent Lora Peterson. "Please listen to the community now. All kids in Eden Prairie deserve a better plan."
Since the plan emerged last summer, discussion among school board members and parents has been heated. It grew more so when a potential new boundary map was revealed, showing that about 1,100 students would change schools.
The issue, which until last month was Krull's to decide, split the school board and community. Meetings turned tense. Parents critical of the plan mobilized, with hundreds signing a petition, packing board meetings and picketing outside the district office.
Mounting skepticism among school board members led to a move last month to have board members, who usually vote only on policies, cast a key new vote on the plan.
At Tuesday night's meeting, board members essentially voted on whether to back the administration's evidence -- documented in a 123-page report -- in support of its plan. Board members Suzanne Kutina, Carol Bomben, board Chair Kim Ross and Mueller voted in favor. Jacobus, Estall and Holly Parker voted against it.
While some supporters of the plan say there is resistance from opponents to integration, many parents have argued that that's not the case, saying instead that they disagreed that the plan was the best way to achieve integrated schools.
After the vote, Peterson said she was disappointed with the result. "I really want what's best for all kids, and this is not it," she said. "Even the best plan won't succeed without the community's support."
Peterson said she thinks more students will open enroll out of Eden Prairie schools into other districts. "I think that Krull has alienated most of the parents in Eden Prairie," she said. "I think we're going to lose a lot more [students]."
Krull became a lightning rod for criticism from parents who criticized what they regarded as a lack of communication. Before the board voted, members debated whether she had ensured adequate communication with the community.
"There hasn't been a lot of collaboration or two-way dialogue that's been meaningful," Jacobus said.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141