Editorial: Boundary disputes pit school districts

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 21, 2012 - 5:34 AM

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Jasmine Hoedeman and her son Lucas, 11, reacted with disappointment Thursday night to the Hopkins school board’s vote against an Edina neighborhood’s effort to leave the Hopkins district and join Edina’s.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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As Minnesota’s school district boundaries were drawn and redrawn over the years, many grew to include all or parts of various communities. For example, the state’s largest district, Anoka-Hennepin, includes Anoka as well as 12 other suburbs. And Stillwater-area students come from all or portions of 18 different communities.

Many of the current school district boundaries made sense when they were adopted — but some of those choices may not fit well with current population and student enrollment realities.

Case in point: The recent story about a group of Edina families that petitioned to leave the Hopkins district to become part of the Edina schools.

The Hopkins school district includes all of Hopkins, most of Minnetonka, half of Golden Valley and parts of Eden Prairie, Edina, Plymouth and St. Louis Park. Those boundaries reflect votes and agreements between school districts and residents over the years.

The Parkwood Knoll neighborhood, with 400-plus homes in Edina, is part of the Hopkins district, although many parents in Parkwood Knoll already send their children to Edina schools under open enrollment. But some Parkwood families have been shut out when Edina schools are full, prompting their interest in becoming part of that district.

The Hopkins school board rejected the request late Thursday, but the families have vowed to take the fight to the Legislature.

The Edina-Hopkins situation raises broader questions about whether the current process for changing boundaries in Minnesota needs study. Should some district lines, for example, receive a “big picture’’ review to determine whether they fit today’s population and school enrollment realities? That kind of study could reveal what efficiencies or educational benefits might be gained from more consolidation or cooperation among the state’s more than 300 districts.

There were good arguments on both sides of the Edina/Hopkins dispute. Parkwood Knoll parents understandably wanted their children to attend school closer to home. When the boundaries were drawn for the Edina and Hopkins districts, there were few homes in the neighborhood.

On the other side of the issue, school districts base their budgets on per-pupil funding from the state and on property taxes collected within their boundaries. With average home values of $800,000 in Parkwood Knoll, Hopkins has collected $557,000 in annual property tax revenue from the affluent neighborhood.

Ideally, two or more districts will agree to boundary changes. Under current law, if a community wants to leave a district and join another, it must get approval from the current district. If the request is rejected, there typically is no other recourse.

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, the outgoing senator representing the Edina parents, introduced legislation last year that would make it easier for neighborhoods to switch districts. He believes that counties should step in and become the final arbiter in such cases.

Other ways to resolve disputes could include forming regional committees of representatives from local governments. Or the Legislature could make boundary changes on a case-by-case basis, with a priority on inflicting the least amount of financial pain on the affected districts. The state could also provide transition aid if it would encourage cost savings through school consolidations and cooperation. And adjustments to open-enrollment rules might also be considered.
 

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