More than 500 students will switch schools in a controversial plan the Wayzata school board approved Monday night, despite opposition from some parents.
District leaders said the changes, which will take place in fall 2019, will help address overcrowding at some schools in the district, which is the state’s 10th-largest.
It will also fill a new ninth elementary school that’s under construction this summer near the border of the fast-growing cities of Plymouth and Medina.
“It is with no shortage of understanding about what this means for our community,” Kristin Tollison, director of administrative services, told school board members. “We have been an in-demand district for many years.”
A record 434 new single-family homes were built in 2017 in the suburban district, and more are on the way, with an estimated 1,000 new homes expected by 2020, mostly in the Plymouth, Medina and Corcoran areas. Reshuffling school boundaries aims to adjust for that future growth but requires moving mostly elementary students but some middle school students, in a plan the school board approved on a 5-1 vote.
That sent Andrea Potashnick searching online for homes in Minnetonka on Monday. Like other parents, she said her family moved to Plymouth four years ago, drawn by her neighborhood’s walking distance to Greenwood Elementary. Now, her son, who starts kindergarten next fall, will be bused further away, past two elementary schools.
“In five years are they going to do this again?” she said. “Our neighborhood is being sacrificed for students who don’t exist.”
Wayzata voters approved a $70 million referendum request last fall that funded the construction of a new elementary school and other projects in the district, which draws students from parts of Corcoran, Maple Grove, Medicine Lake, Medina, Minnetonka, Orono, Plymouth and Wayzata.
But many parents said that they supported the referendum request to help with the anticipated new housing construction in the northwestern part of the 11,500-student district — not knowing it would affect them in the south and central part of the district.
“You’re moving kids who don’t need to be moved,” Robby Potashnick, Andrea’s husband, told school board members. “I just don’t understand how this is a rational decision.”
Potashnick and other parents said the district should draw boundaries based on current students — not on future students living in homes not yet built. Other parents complained of having “new school fatigue” after the district just reshuffled boundaries a few years ago when it opened its eighth elementary school. That leaves a Maple Grove neighborhood now having their kids moved to their third school in six years.
“I don’t feel it’s fair,” said Liz Aseltine, a Plymouth parent with three children. “It doesn’t make sense. If I had known [about the changes] I would have moved to a smaller district like Orono. In three to five years we’re going to be doing this again.”
Changing school attendance lines is always a contentious issue.
Anoka-Hennepin, the state’s largest district, is looking to move 4,500 students, or 11 percent of students districtwide, to new schools in fall 2019, also aimed at relieving overcrowding in some schools while helping to fill open seats at two new elementary schools in booming areas of Blaine and Ramsey. And in Woodbury and Cottage Grove, four middle school boundaries will shift this fall to ease overcrowding and accommodate the opening of a new middle school.
But in the Wayzata school district, leaders said adjusting for rapid growth is better than the opposite problem some Minnesota districts are facing: shrinking enrollment and budget deficits prompting teacher cuts or closing of schools.
“It’s such a difficult process,” said Andrea Cuene, vice chair of the Wayzata school board. “This is a good problem to have. … To have more kids means we have to have places to educate them.”
One by one, parents gave angry, sometimes tearful testimony earlier this month, upset about having their children bused farther away or leaving a school in which parents have invested money and volunteer time. Others pleaded with district leaders to have their kids grandfathered in to not move schools.
After that session, officials tweaked the proposal slightly, agreeing to grandfather some students into the changes and rejigger the proposal so some kids will have to switch elementary schools but not middle schools.
“We’re putting a lot of faith in housing markets,” said school board member Erik Brown, who cast the lone vote against the plan. “It doesn’t feel like a great move forward for us.”
Aseltine joined a smaller crowd of parents making a last-ditch effort to sway the school board on Monday and said she was grateful leaders listened to feedback, but it wasn’t enough. She moved to the west metro from California and was surprised to see how so many Minnesota school districts like Wayzata reshuffle school boundaries.
“This is shocking to me,” she said. “It impacts [kids] to have to move schools.”