New school attendance boundaries to bring changes for Farmington families

  • Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 17, 2008 - 9:06 AM

It's unclear whether school boundaries will spark heated debate, but that question should be answered next week.

The students who head to class at the high school now under construction in Farmington won't be the only kids in town going to a new school next fall.

Completion of the new high school will mean attendance boundary changes affecting families throughout the district, especially those with students in one of Farmington's two middle schools.

Boundary changes, which can ignite passions and prompt pushback from parents, are a routine hurdle for districts to clear when a new school opens. But Farmington's discussion comes after a years-long stretch of controversies, including a legal dispute between the school district and city over the new high school's location, which was settled in 2006, and a referendum for a sports complex that voters soundly rejected last year.

It's unclear whether school boundaries will also spark heated debate, but that question should be answered next week. A committee charged with redrawing the lines will present several options to the school board at its Monday meeting, and the district will hold public meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday to gather feedback from families. The board is slated to make a decision in late November.

So far, "I think there's been a good partnership between both the school district and the community members," said Jeff Mortimer, a father of two students in the district and one of 23 parents, principals and district administrators serving on the boundary-adjustment committee.

But big changes are ahead. When the new high school opens, the old building will become a middle school, and what is now Middle School East will turn into the district's fifth elementary school. Both middle schools will begin serving grades 6-8 instead of the current setup, which sends 6th and 7th graders to Middle School East and 8th and 9th graders to Middle School West.

That means splitting up classrooms of pre-teens and, in some cases, separating close friends who live on opposite sides of town.

Many parents of students who will be in fifth grade next fall want their children to have the option of finishing out their elementary-school careers in the same building.

The district lets students apply to transfer to schools outside attendance boundaries, and requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. That policy will remain in effect next fall, said Jeff Priess, the district's finance director.

Committee members tried to keep neighborhoods together, balance enrollment at each school, plan for growth and make sure kids don't end up being bused from one end of Farmington to the other when they sketched new lines. They've come up with two options for middle school boundaries and three for the elementary schools.

The plans were posted Thursday on the district's website.

One option for middle-school students divides north and south Farmington along a jagged line, while the other sends students living in a northwestern slice of the district to Middle School West.

Several parents said Thursday that they're staying calm about the discussion ahead.

"The district has grown so much, and it's just changing as a whole, and there isn't really an alternative besides working on the boundaries," said Wendy Appel, co-president of the parent-teacher partnership at Middle School East. Appel has a sixth-grade son who will be affected by the changes next fall, but she said he's not worried. "He lives in the here-and-now," she said. "It's too far away for him."

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016

  • WHAT'S NEXT

    A boundary-adjustments committee will present several options for redrawing elementary and middle-school attendance lines to the Farmington school board at 6 p.m. Monday in the little theater of Farmington High School. The district will also hold public meetings to gather feedback at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Akin Road Elementary and at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the high school's little theater.

    To get a closer look at the new boundary options on the table, go to www.farmington.k12.mn.us

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