Lakeville is facing school closing, program cuts

  • Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE
  • Star Tribune
  • January 5, 2011 - 11:06 PM

A budget crisis paired with declining enrollment in his once-booming suburban school district has prompted Lakeville Superintendent Gary Amoroso to propose closing an elementary school in the fall of 2012.

Amoroso recommended the closure Wednesday, as part of an effort to close a projected two-year budget gap of $15.8 million.

Closing a school and putting it to another use, which would save an estimated $725,000 a year, is a relatively small piece of the budget-patching plan that board members expect to vote on next month. District administrators have proposed to cut the equivalent of 100 full-time jobs next year, as well as eliminating programs ranging from fifth-grade band to "Early Bird" classes offered to high school students before the regular school day.

Lakeville "certainly would not be the first, and likely will not be the last district to face a closure," said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. Talk of closing a school in Lakeville comes less than a year after a school shutdown wave concentrated in the state's three largest districts, Anoka-Hennepin, St. Paul and Minneapolis.

But the proposed school closure is likely to surprise many who are used to thinking of Lakeville as one of the area's fastest-growing suburbs.

Times have changed.

Lakeville is still growing, and it still nears the top of the list among metro-area cities when it comes to the number of building permits issued each year, said Adam Kienberger, an economic development specialist for the city.

But growth has slowed, the community is aging and student enrollment has been declining in recent years, said Amoroso.

School leaders expect Lakeville's K-5 population to drop by about 200 students over the next three years. Right now, the district has about 4,700 elementary students. Those kids are housed in nine buildings that are designed to hold a total of just under 5,300 students.

The district has not identified which school would close. It could be any of the nine buildings, Amoroso said.

At a recent board meeting, board member Bob Erickson proposed repurposing a school in the northern part of the district.

The board plans to meet several times and seek public feedback before voting on proposed budget cuts on Feb. 8.

Lakeville school leaders warned residents before the Nov. 2 election that they might have to close a school if voters did not approve a local tax increase for education. Voters renewed an operating levy but rejected an increase that would have cost the average homeowner about $300 a year and raised $6.2 million a year for the district.

If the board moves ahead with closing a school, Amoroso recommended setting a Dec. 1 deadline for determining the targeted school's new use, setting new attendance boundaries for other schools, and making other necessary decisions. The school that closes would probably be chosen midway through that process, he said.

On Wednesday, Lakeville school board members confined most of their questions about the proposed cuts to relatively small details. Administrators had warned the board to be prepared for a budget proposal so drastic as to create what Amoroso calls a "new normal" in the district.

Even so, "Frankly, my mind is racing," board member Jim Skelly said after hearing a presentation on proposed cuts. "... It was more than I anticipated."

Class sizes would go up, students would choose from fewer electives, and funding for some sports and clubs would be cut under the plan. The "team-teaching" class structure of middle schools would be gutted. To save money on busing, start and end times at some schools would change.

The school board could use $2 million in federal Jobs Bill funding to avert some budget cuts, but Amoroso pointed out that those are one-time dollars. Instead, the board could decide to use the money to invest in technology or help offset possible cuts to state education funding this spring.

Finding the cuts wasn't easy, nor will explaining them to teachers and residents, all acknowledged.

"The emotional toll begins when school starts tomorrow," Erickson said.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016

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