Edina residents fight to get kids in Edina schools

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 15, 2012 - 6:05 PM

This week's vote follows a yearslong battle by the Parkwood Knolls neighborhood to be annexed out of the Hopkins district.

Edina parents who want to send their children to Edina schools are threatening to take their fight all the way to State Capitol if the Hopkins school board rejects their request to shift school boundaries.

The battle pits one of the west metro's most sprawling school districts against residents of Parkwood Knolls, a 467-home neighborhood in the far-northwest corner of Edina, which boasts some of the highest-rated schools in the country. But a decades-old school boundary forces residents of that neighborhood to send their children to Hopkins schools. They can attend Edina schools only if accepted through open enrollment.

"We're simply choosing the school district closer to our homes. It just happens to not be the district we're in," said Alan Koehler, a leader of the group seeking annexation.

They're likely to get their answer Thursday, when the Hopkins school board votes on the controversial annexation request. But the district has balked in the past, arguing that it would shrink its tax base and increase the burden on other taxpayers.

"I can't identify any benefit to the detachment," Superintendent John Schultz said last week.

The vote follows more than two years of lobbying, door-to-door surveys, a Facebook page and petition with 671 signatures presented in October by the Parkwood Knolls neighborhood, asking that their children be allowed to attend the schools in the city they live in.

"This is a big event in this process," said Koehler, a resident of the neighborhood and leader of Unite Edina 273.

If the Hopkins school board approves the request to detach, the residents will go to the Hennepin County Board to get approval to change the school boundary line that splits their homes from their Edina neighbors. But if the Hopkins school board members reject it, the residents say they'll go to the State Capitol to ask legislators for help. A proposed bill last legislative session that would've made it easier to annex didn't make it to the Senate.

Loss of students, money

The Edina residents argue they shouldn't have to apply via open enrollment into the schools that are in their city, which boasts top national rankings and high rates of college-bound students. But for Hopkins, which draws students from seven suburbs, the issue comes down to finances.

Last month, an outside financial consultant projected the district would lose $557,000 in revenue a year to let the neighborhood detach.

"That could be 10 teachers," Schultz said. "That really impacts the great programs we have."

The Parkwood Knolls neighborhood has an average home market value of $823,501. To make up for the loss of property taxes to the district, Schultz said it could increase property taxes by 1.5 percent to the remaining taxpayers, but that wouldn't cover the entire financial loss because the district would need levy approval from voters to increase taxes any further.

Hopkins doesn't have a school in Edina, but its boundary lines cover parts of the city, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Plymouth, St. Louis Park, Golden Valley and Edina.

'It doesn't make sense'

To Koehler, it's an arbitrary line that simply doesn't make sense.

He applied for open enrollment for his daughter to attend kindergarten at Edina's Countryside Elementary, which is about a mile closer to their home than the nearest Hopkins elementary school, but she joined a waiting list and didn't get in, attending the International School of Minnesota in Eden Prairie instead. They tried again last year, and she successfully open enrolled into Edina for first grade. Next year, he'll have to go through the open-enrollment process again for his younger son.

"After a while, it doesn't make sense anymore," he said.

Pressure on open enrollment

Koehler and other parents argue that annexation would allow their children to attend the same school as their other Edina neighbors and forgo longer bus rides to Hopkins schools. It would also relieve them of the pressure and uncertainty of open enrollment with Edina, where already 12 to 15 percent of the population comes from outside the district.

Last year, the district saw an unexpected flux of about 200 students, which prompted school officials to cut off open enrollment to nondistrict students at most schools.

In Parkwood Knolls, 133 of the 212 children are in Edina schools via open enrollment, according to Unite Edina 273. Nine children attend Hopkins schools, and the remaining students attend private or charter schools.

Their battle to go to Edina schools has been waged before, but this time, it's well-organized with residents determined to bring the fight to the Capitol if it fails locally.

"It's a big challenge," Koehler said. "We're still not done. This could go on for more time as well. [But] we think it's worth it."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib

  • IF YOU GO

    What: Seven-member Hopkins school board votes on annexation request.

    When: 7 p.m. Thursday

    Where: Eisenhower Community Center boardroom, 1001 Hwy. 7, Hopkins

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