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Massive school changes pass in Osseo

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA
  • Star Tribune
  • March 12, 2008 - 1:32 AM

After a wide-ranging discussion telecast into four overflow rooms at the District 279 headquarters in Maple Grove, the Osseo school board on Tuesday night passed a controversial plan to cut $16.3 million from its budget for next year.

Despite an outcry from parents, the board voted 4-2 to close Osseo and Edgewood elementary schools; to turn Weaver Lake Elementary into the new home of the science and math magnet school now housed at Edgewood, and to combine programs from Cedar Island, Fair Oaks and Oakview elementary schools, creating two prekindergarten-through-third-grade programs and one serving fourth to sixth grades.

The action also gave the go-ahead for other cuts, including layoffs of as many as 166 licensed teachers, several administrators and nonlicensed staff and specialists.

Parents from one of the affected schools, Cedar Island, said the outcome was exactly what they'd expected.

"It's an injustice," said Cedar Island Elementary parent Sara Krueger, a comment affirmed by a chorus of other parents. "The changes they made did nothing to help the budget crisis."

They added that they were bothered by the fact that all the board members had expressed unresolved reservations about the plan.

Denise Blanchard, who has a son at Weaver Lake, said the disruption caused by the closings will hurt students, especially those with special needs.

"In their whole decision, it didn't seem like they put the kids first," she said. "They're not doing what's best for all the kids in the district."

The cuts come in the aftermath of the failure of two of three levy-increase requests put to voters in November.

"My biggest concern is that I live by the creed of 'do no harm,'" said board member Linda Etim before Tuesday's special session. "So I want to make sure that in the process of trying to move the district forward that we do no harm to children as we try to adjust to the budget changes, and as we try to live up to the new strategic plan."

Etim, who supported the combination of programs at Fair Oaks, Cedar Island and Oak View, ultimately voted against the proposal, along with board member Dean Henke, because she was not in favor of the closures of Edgewood and Osseo elementary schools and the new role for the Weaver Lake building. The two unsuccessfully attempted to have the school closure votes separate from the rest of the budget cuts.

"Nothing's being left untouched," said board member John Nelson. "No cuts are good ones. It's just a matter of, you've got to make a judgment of, what do you do?"

Nelson ultimately voted in favor of the plan.

Woodland Elementary parent Shelly Korby noted that despite the outcry against closures at Osseo and Edgewood, the cuts would be worse without them. "If these schools weren't to be closed, it would be even more of an impact, for everyone," she said.

Rice Lake Elementary parent Rachel Laurie said the school-closure controversy has gotten more attention than the question of how many teachers the district will lose, and how those losses will affect class sizes, because it feels less immediate to many.

"People won't know until next year how may kids are in their children's classes," she said "That reality will hit at a later time."

Since the proposal was made public early last month, parents and community members have flooded school board meetings and "community cafe" public hearings. Parents set up websites, organized protest marches and coordinated outfits in school colors.

While she lauds the spirit of Weaver Lake and Edgewood families, the outcry feels a little late to Korby, who was active in last fall's funding campaign.

"So much energy is being spent now that it hasn't passed," she said. "I wish more people had been more proactive before this. ... If we could have had all that energy up front, we could've done so much more."

Still, Superintendent Susan Hintz says she won't spend time thinking about the failed levies.

"That's where everyone wants to start," she said. "We have to deal with the current reality and make the best of what we can for the future and try to create it together."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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