With 10 months to prepare, districts look to build, add on or shuffle space to accommodate all-day classes in every district.
As more Minnesota schools prepare to roll out free all-day kindergarten in 2014-15, they’re facing a daunting practical concern — more kids in school will create a space crunch.
Most state educators applauded legislators’ decision last spring to appropriate $134 million for all-day kindergarten, currently available in about two-thirds of Minnesota school districts for no charge. Now schools that have been charging parents for full-day programming are preparing for an influx of kindergartners.
“The question is now where are we going to put them,” said Greg Abbott, spokesman for the Minnesota School Boards Association.
In addition to planning staffing, transportation and curriculum, school leaders are now making logistical decisions that will shape kindergartners’ experience next fall.
For some schools, adding sections of all-day kindergarten will mean minor modifications to existing classrooms — adding a wall here, or perhaps moving a community education class or after-school program to another building.
But for others — namely, those with growing enrollment and subsequent space crunches — it might ultimately mean going to voters to ask for financial help to build new schools or additions.
In Wayzata, a district where each school building is either at or over capacity, school leaders estimate they will need an additional 14 to 16 classrooms to accommodate all-day kindergarten. That’s about half of a typical elementary building.
Consequently, the district will go to voters Feb. 25 to ask for $109.6 million in bond funding, which, among other things, would help build a new elementary school, estimated to cost about $26 million.
Even if voters approve that request, a new elementary wouldn’t open until 2016, a fact that spurred administrators to come up with an interim facilities plan.
That plan, released Friday, shows that six of the district’s seven space-strapped elementaries will be able to accommodate the influx of new all-day kindergarten sections next year.
Birchview Elementary, however, can’t. So the plan calls for moving all of its kindergartners to Central Middle School for 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Amy Parnell, the Wayzata district’s spokeswoman, said the decision to move Birchview kindergartners was not made lightly. She pointed to the fact that three of Plymouth Creek Elementary’s kindergarten sections were temporarily moved to the middle school for the 2012-13 school year with minimal fuss.
“We learned a lot from that experience, and we’re going to take what we know and make sure we can provide our Birchview students and their families with a great learning experience,” she said.
Closed schools get new life
In a strange way, the past few years’ declining enrollment is actually helping Mounds View Public Schools accommodate all-day kindergarten next year.
That’s because the district has two former shuttered elementaries — Snail Lake and Pike Lake — at its disposal. Administrators have decided to use those buildings to establish two kindergarten centers next school year.
School officials chose to go that route rather than to make costly additions to the district’s elementaries, many of which are now experiencing enrollment gains.