Officials in the South Washington County school district are proposing high school attendance boundary shifts that will be gently phased in and affect relatively few families.
But they’re still well aware of the emotion involved with the changes and are not inclined to allow public comment on the night they vote on them.
“I do think it makes the vote that much more emotional to have a lot of public speaking, when we’ve aired it very completely beforehand,” board member Laurie Johnson told colleagues at an informal workshop earlier this month.
The board is holding off, meanwhile, on changes to middle and elementary school boundaries.
On March 26, the board will vote on a plan that would shift a group of Cottage Grove students from East Ridge High School to Park High in Cottage Grove, and send some students from areas yet to be developed, but located in the vicinity of East Ridge, to Park and Woodbury high schools.
Here’s a quick briefing on the moving parts:
Phased in over several years, for the high schools, would be shifts in two parts of the district:
• In Woodbury, the area bounded by Bailey Road on the north, Radio Drive on the east, Military Road on the south, and the Woodbury city border on the west, would shift from East Ridge to Woodbury High effective with the 2015-16 school year.
• The area in Cottage Grove south of 70th Street in the current East Ridge attendance area would shift from East Ridge to Park, effective with the 2016-17 school year.
The Woodbury area today only holds a handful of students, said assistant superintendent Mike Vogel. The Cottage Grove area contains about 230 students, he said, but five years from now that will subside to 204.
“Areas of future development were moved,” Vogel said, “not residents of current developments with existing residences.”
The phasing-in would work this way:
• In the first year, students in all four high school grades and living in the affected areas could choose high schools.
• In 2017-18, ninth-graders in those areas would be assigned to a new school, but students in grades 10 to 12 would still be able to choose.
• The next year, grades 9 and 10 would be assigned, but choice would remain for juniors and seniors, and so on.
The district is also working on a possible option for middle school students to attend the same high school as their sibling through intradistrict transfers.
Boundary decisions are being made as the district moves closer to a referendum asking voters to approve, among other things, additions at all three high schools to bring capacities at each to 2,300 students.
But the boundary shifts work whether that is authorized or not, Vogel said.
Park would add space for 200 students and Woodbury for 300, both by 2017-18, and East Ridge would grow by 500 students by 2018-19, under the district’s long-range facilities plan.
Board members also reacted to news coverage of an anxious session between school and Woodbury city officials. The latter expressed concern recently that uncertainty over school attendance details may be dampening development activity in the city, while Vogel at that session mentioned an unfortunate tendency to prefer “shiny new” buildings.
Board Chair Ron Kath said it “troubled me very much” to hear it suggested that home buyers will “not be happy unless everyone goes to East Ridge. ... We have beautiful schools, and it’s not the brick and mortar, it’s the people. We have outstanding staff, outstanding programs and, ultimately, outstanding children.
“I know boundaries are emotional for folks, I totally understand that. I hope as we go forward we can break down those paradigms. East Ridge was built a bunch of years newer; but our other high schools are top of the line.”
Want to weigh in?
In place of offering live public comment before the March 26 vote, board members encouraged anyone wanting to comment to visit the district’s online page for that purpose.
The page is https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/833listening.
Thoughts will be passed on to board members.
In other grades …
School officials posted an announcement last week that they are “reconsidering the timing of both middle and elementary school attendance boundaries.”
The district is moving to buy the Valley Crossing Community School, and expects to move students into that building before any new middle school building goes up.
“The elementary boundary process and decisionmaking will be tied to the transition plan for Valley Crossing, which will be announced later this spring and into the summer months,” officials said.
Middle school boundaries are “tied to the successful support from the community for the construction of a new middle school,” the announcement added. “Because the referendum has yet to be called by the school board, the middle school attendance boundary discussion and timing is yet to be determined by the school board. “