When Matt Ode bought his house in Plymouth’s Lake Camelot neighborhood nine years ago, one of the selling features was that it was located in the Basswood Elementary attendance zone.
That school consistently has been one of Osseo Area Schools’ top academic performers. Its sterling reputation has enticed many families outside its attendance boundaries to seek to enroll their children there.
Today, Basswood is a victim of its own popularity. Overcrowding has prompted administrators to propose moving about 100 of its students who live in the district’s southwest corner to nearby Oak View Elementary, which currently serves many more poor, minority students who are struggling academically.
“It’s really about the test scores,” Ode said, explaining Basswood parents’ objections to possibly being moved to Oak View. “The residents here bought our homes with the intention of going to Basswood, and we don’t want to move our kids, especially when the district allows so many students to open enroll there.”
When school board members vote on the matter Jan. 28, it will be the first in a series of decisions that ultimately could cause hundreds of students to be shuffled across the Osseo district, one of the Twin Cities metro area’s most racially and economically diverse.
In addition to changing Basswood’s boundaries, the board also is contemplating realigning grades, a complicated plan that would spell big changes for many schools.
Those plans have magnified the historical divide between the more affluent western half of the northwest suburban district, anchored by Maple Grove, and the eastern half, where more students live in poverty in Brooklyn Park and Osseo.
Some parents have suggested that Maple Grove form its own school district, an idea that’s floated around for years.
“We love that our families have deep interests in our schools,” said Superintendent Kate Maguire. “The challenging part of it is we have a responsibility to consider the interests of 20,000 students.”
The big shuffle
When the Legislature approved funding for all-day kindergarten last year — a first for Minnesota schools — Osseo administrators began analyzing space needs in every building. Maguire said she and other administrators saw the process as an opportunity for a broader examination of the district’s grade configurations and space demands at every school.
Unlike most Minnesota schools, most of Osseo’s elementaries are kindergarten through sixth grade, junior highs are grades seven to nine and the three high schools are 10 to 12. Budget cuts in 2008 prompted two schools — Fair Oaks and Cedar Island — to become K-3. Those schools now feed Oak View for grades four to six.
“One of the disadvantages of our current model is that it creates a transition for students between grades three and four at these schools that students in other parts of our school district don’t have,” Maguire said. “We all know that transitions can be tough and cause scores to dip.”
If the board chooses to realign the grades, the most pressing logistical challenge will be finding room at the high school level to accommodate a new crop of freshmen. Administrators initially discussed moving about 400 students from Maple Grove and Park Center high schools to Osseo High School, where there is more building capacity.
Even though it’s far from clear which students might have to be reassigned, many Maple Grove High School parents are upset. Some argue that if the district is contemplating a new high school addition, it should be in Maple Grove, where the area’s economic growth is centered.
“No disrespect to Osseo or Park Center, but that’s not why we moved here,” parent Pat Ross said at a meeting last week that drew about 300 parents.
If the board chooses not to realign grades, administrators say the boundaries will have to be adjusted at seven to 10 elementaries to accommodate overcrowding beginning in 2015-16. They have not identified those schools, how many students might be affected and where they live. The board is expected to take up the issue at its Feb. 25 meeting.
‘More justification’ demanded
While administrators have yet to make a recommendation about the overall grade configuration, they have endorsed making Fair Oaks, Center Island and Oak View schools that serve pre-K through grades five or six. Most parents seem to be on board with that plan.
The Basswood proposal, however, is a different story.
As of Friday, almost 700 people had signed an online petition protesting the plan, which many believe was hastily put together and lacked parent input. The school board is slated to discuss the plan at a workshop Tuesday.
Parents who live the neighborhoods targeted to shift to Oak View’s attendance zone say the district should have cut off open enrollment before proposing a controversial boundary change. The district has allowed about 120 students to open enroll into Basswood — roughly the same number of students who live in the census area slated to be shifted into Oak View’s boundaries.
“What we really want from them is more justification for this decision,” said parent Chad Weineke, who said he doesn’t think overcrowding at Basswood had negatively affected his son’s education.
Weineke and other parents who live in the proposed boundary-change area say their opposition is shaped more by their desire to stay in Basswood than by disdain for Oak View, where 56 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches and 58 percent of students are minorities. In comparison, 12 percent of Basswood students receive poverty aid, while 25 percent are students of color.
The parents do cite Oak View’s scores on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, which are among the bottom tier in the Osseo district’s 17 elementaries. Last year, 47 percent of Oak View students were proficient in math and 40 percent were proficient in reading.
Oak View Principal Ann Mock defends her students’ performance on standardized tests and points out that their growth scores are more in line with other Osseo elementary students. “We know we’re a good school,” she said.
That’s a sentiment shared by Jennifer Lundeen, whose son is an Oak View fourth-grader. She praised Mock and Oak View teachers for working hard to make sure all students are engaged, challenged and motivated.
“This school is not a stagnant school,” she said.