A group of parents in Eden Prairie has launched a petition drive to try to reverse a school board decision to convert the district's elementary schools from K-4 schools to K-6.
The parents, who call themselves the Eden Prairie Taxpayers, say they've collected about 500 signatures so far and plan to present the petition to the school board by May 31.
"We are concerned that moving forward with this plan will endanger the [district's] public image and credibility, and will have a negative impact on our district's financial state and our property values," the organizers say in their online petition.
In a 4-3 vote, the Eden Prairie school board in February approved a facilities plan that will move the school district to a K-6 elementary model over the next five years. Currently, the district has five elementary schools serving grades K-4 and one intermediate school that serves fifth- and sixth-graders from all over the city.
That program at Oak Point Intermediate School will close under the new facilities plan, and the district's popular Spanish Immersion program will move into the building, along with a new K-6 program that has not yet been identified.
School board Chairwoman Kim Ross said the plan was the result of two years of study, and that it was "quite unlikely" that the board will reverse its decision or take another vote. Ross was among the four board members who voted to approve Superintendent Melissa Krull's recommendation for the K-6 plan.
Jessica Score, one of the parents who helped start the petition drive, said the idea emerged from conversations with other parents who were dissatisfied with the board vote.
One parent, Debbie Brandt, formed a Facebook group called "Eden Prairie School Board Accountability" that claims 210 members.
"I went and spoke on [February] 23rd against a proposal, asking them to give it at least some more time before they approved it," but the board OK'd the plan anyway.
"After that, I personally felt that I hadn't been listened to at all," she said. So she started the Facebook group to give people a forum to talk about school issues, she said.
Another parent and member of the group, Lora Peterson, said she feels compelled to act now regardless of whether the board will reconsider.
"I'm not sure we'll be able to overturn it. But I think it's really important that we let them know how disappointed we are with their leadership," she said. "This seems to be going down a really bad path. They're supposed to be voting to represent us, and that doesn't seem to be happening."
Objections to the plan
The group's main objections to the facilities plan include its pricetag; the uncertainty about how it will be implemented, especially when it comes to school boundary changes; and what they call a lack of consideration for other options.
District leaders have estimated the cost for the conversion to K-6 schools could range from $120,000 to more than $1 million. Parent Alexa Smith said it was "irresponsible" for the board to adopt a plan with such a wide range in the estimated price and lack of detail.
Other parents support the board's decision.
Todd Gruenig has three children in the Eden Prairie schools, including two who are enrolled in the district's pre-kindergarten Spanish immersion program. He said he supports the move to K-6 elementary schools because he believes that keeping children together with the same group of teachers for seven years is better for their education than moving them from a K-4 school to a grade 5-6 school and then to a middle school.
"I was really excited when the initiative passed because in my mind, this was a step forward in continuing to make our district a vital and innovative program," Gruenig said.
The petition, however, contends that when the district set out to study school facilities, Krull set three parameters which severely limited the options the Five-Year Facilities Committee could consider: that any final plan had to meet the demand for preschool, full-day kindergarten and the Spanish Immersion program.
School officials defend plan
Ross and Krull said last week that school leaders have been studying ways to make better use of their facilities since 2008, and that the process has included focus groups, committee discussions and a call for community input that generated hundreds of e-mails from residents.
They also pointed to results of a recent community survey commissioned by the school district to gauge the public's appetite for supporting a school referendum this fall to support a tax levy increase.
In that survey, respondents were asked to give the school district a letter grade, from A to F, and 80 percent of those polled gave the Eden Prairie schools an A or a B, Ross said. Only two percent graded the schools a D or an F.
"The 500 people who signed this petition, which is about 2 percent of registered voters - we have about 30,000 registered voters in Eden Prairie - are likely many of the same 2 percent who graded the district as a D or an F," Ross said.
The survey also asked residents if they knew about the recent decision to change the elementary schools into K-6 schools, and if that decision affected their support for a referendum in the future .
Ross said the survey showed that 45.5 percent of those polled said it would make them more likely to support a referendum, while 34.5 percent said it made them less likely to support a tax increase, and 18 percent said it made no difference on their willingness to back a referendum.
Allie Shah • 612-673-4488