Scarcely two months after residents raised a ruckus over class sizes they said were too big because of students from outside the district, one of the state's most prominent school districts is tweaking its open-enrollment policies.
During a sparsely attended Edina school board meeting this week, the board approved on first reading a revised nonresident enrollment policy that omits the following language: "minority nonresident students will be encouraged to attend Edina Public Schools in order to achieve a more diverse student body."
Instead, school officials gave preliminary approval to language in another policy that outlines Edina's desire to "maintain a diverse student population" through state choice options such as open enrollment.
What's behind the change?
"The policies were really confusing to staff and parents," said Gwen Jackson, Edina's administrative planning director. "What we did was make it less wordy and more user-friendly."
Jackson said board members would discuss the revised policies further at upcoming board meetings. If approved, the policies would take effect during the 2009-10 school year.
Superintendent Ric Dressen said the district and other members of the Minnesota School Boards Association review these types of student policies every few years. Dressen said it has been about three years since Edina updated its polices.
"I think the current [Edina] superintendent has made it clear that he's open to working with a variety of youngsters," said Joe Nathan, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for School Change. "The changes are consistent with state law."
However, Edina's enrollment guidelines are noteworthy because it's one of nine north and west suburban districts, including Columbia Heights, Eden Prairie, Hopkins and Robbinsdale, that participate in Choice is Yours.
The 7-year-old desegregation program sends more than 2,000 Minneapolis students to suburban schools on the state's dime. The price is $7 million a year. Minneapolis school officials criticized the program recently due to high turnover rates and lagging test scores.
And the complaints extend beyond Minneapolis' borders. Last fall, dozens of Edina parents raised a fuss about open enrollment after some elementary classes exceeded district class-size guidelines. In one petition, parents asserted that while they "recognized the importance of diversity, unchecked admission of nonresidents" caused the crowding.
School officials responded by closing open enrollment at two Edina elementary schools and forming a team to examine open enrollment, class size and facilities policies. Their work led to a policy that gives Minneapolis students priority over other nonresident applicants. The school board adopted it last month.
And nonresidents' interest in Edina schools shows no signs of waning. This year, the district offered seats to about half of the 337 nonresident students who applied to attend during 2008-09.
Currently, more than 15 percent, or about 1,200 of Edina's more than 7,700 students, live outside the district, school officials said. Edina's nonresident population rose from about 8 percent of its total student population in 2001 to more than 14 percent in 2007, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.
Those gains have helped schools in the aging suburb -- Edina has the oldest population of any city in the metro area -- maintain stable enrollment.
"If we can provide a place where people want to go to school, that's really good," said Teri Whaley, an Edina parent. "They [school officials] acknowledged there was a class-size issue, but they seem to be making improvements for everyone."
Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395