DULUTH – After hearing hundreds of parents push back on proposed changes to public school boundaries, the school board is discussing whether to postpone part of the redrawing process.
At the school board business committee's meeting Tuesday evening, Duluth school administrators asked board members to consider delaying any shifts of the city's high school and middle school boundary line — which officials had previously said could take effect as soon as next fall — until more research can be done.
"Our recommendation would be that we do slow this down," Superintendent Bill Gronseth said. "There are pieces of this that are bigger than we can accomplish in the next few months."
Administrators also recommended that the board move forward with conversations about adjustments to elementary school boundary lines and immersion program sites, which they say are more urgently needed due to overcrowding in some of the district's schools. Such changes could still be implemented as early as next fall, Gronseth said.
Duluth hired a consulting firm last spring to research and recommend changes to Duluth's school boundaries. The company, Cooperative Strategies, released three proposed scenarios last month that would shuffle students around the district to address uneven enrollment, demographic disparities and questions about space for the growing Spanish and Ojibwe immersion programs.
The administrators' recommendations also call for the formation of a working group to more thoroughly examine the differences between Duluth's two middle schools and two high schools, which some say exacerbates a decadeslong divide between the city's eastern and western sides based on race and income levels.
School board members expressed concerns that rushing into boundary changes, big or small, could drive families out of Duluth's public schools. They also discussed looking at programming that could make some of the district's emptier schools more attractive.
"I want us to approach this a little more cautiously, a little more appropriately, so it doesn't do long-term damage to the district," board member Paul Sandholm said.
The board could vote at its Feb. 24 meeting to officially direct district administrators to continue exploring this phased approach to the boundary study. Gronseth said proposed tweaks to the elementary school boundaries could be presented to the board — and potentially put to a vote — this spring.
"We are telling our community please know that we are not going to make big changes here in the next year or so," said Jill Lofald, chair of Duluth's school board. "Their continued awareness and study of our district's challenges is what we need."