Osseo schools' partial victory at the polls in November eased the pain of looming budget cuts.
But there's still plenty of hurt to go around.
The district is in the midst of figuring out how to cut $16.4 million out of its 2008-09 budget. It could involve losing 166 teachers, closing two elementary schools, and cutting seventh- and eighth-grade sports programs.
Changing the function of some schools, in addition to the school closings, also could mean district boundaries will need to be redrawn and thousands of elementary school students moved to new schools next fall. The prospect of losing schools already has plenty of parents girding for action to make sure that doesn't happen.
"I'm just really floored," said parent Michele Flynn of the district proposal to turn her daughter Megan's school into a magnet school.
She attends Weaver Lake, in Maple Grove, which could be turned into a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) magnet school open to students throughout the district and from other districts. "It's not just a school; it's a community," Flynn said. "My 8-year-old daughter is upset about it."
There's one consolation for parents, teachers and students: It could have been worse.
Osseo schools presented voters with three questions in the November referendum. The first question, which replaced two existing property tax levies with a bigger one, passed; it will raise $30 million a year for 10 years. The others, requesting smaller amounts, were voted down. If all three had failed, Superintendent Susan Hintz said, the district would have had to lop $31 million to $33 million off the 2008-09 budget.
"We would have had to close both elementary and secondary schools," Hintz said.
Details on the proposals
The two schools recommended for closing are Osseo Elementary, in Osseo, and the Edgewood Elementary STEM school, in Brooklyn Park.
Students at Cedar Island and Weaver Lake elementaries would also be moved to other schools as the functions of some schools would change. Cedar Island in Maple Grove, for instance, would be turned into an early childhood center. Fourth- through sixth-grade students at Fair Oaks Elementary, in Brooklyn Park, also would be moved.
According to the district proposal, both Osseo and Edgewood elementary schools would be closed, in part, because of costly maintenance problems. Weaver Lake would be turned into a STEM school because its large size makes it easier to accommodate the demand for the magnet program, and its location near major roads makes it easier for students outside the district to reach.
Hintz said such plans are just proposals and that nothing has been finalized. Indeed, strong parent and teacher opposition to a proposed school closing in the neighboring Robbinsdale district recently helped turn the board against the plan and in favor of alternative cuts.
But if all the schools stay open in the Osseo district, hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings must be found elsewhere.
School officials know that nothing about the cuts, wherever they're made, will be easy.
"The way I look at it is we have to make cuts to balance the budget," said John Nelson, vice chairman of the Osseo school board. "They're all bad cuts. The hardest part is the staff. Ninety percent of our budget is staff. When you cut budget you have to cut staff."
The budget-cut plans will take center stage at three community meetings on Feb. 20, a hearing on possible school closings set for Feb. 28 and board meetings Feb. 6 and 19. The board is slated to decide what cuts to make on March 5.
Also, the district used a website to survey residents about budget reductions; it garnered 447 responses, Hintz said.
Parents from at least one school, Weaver Lake, have already held their first meeting to try to figure out how to save their school.
A Thursday night meeting of Weaver Lake parents drew a crowd estimated at between 200 and 300.
"It was sort of a grass-roots thing," Weaver Lake parent Charlie Heitzig said. "The tone of the meeting was positive about Weaver Lake. The focus was on how can we help accentuate what's great about Weaver Lake. ... It's the idea of having a neighborhood school that's a little less than a mile down the street from us. You go to school with kids from the neighborhood. There's something community-building about that."
Norman Draper • 612-673-4547