Just a few miles apart in the sprawling southwest metro suburbs, Chaska and Chanhassen’s high schools reflect the cities they’re nestled in. Chanhassen’s student population is more affluent, more white and has the newer high school. Chaska has the older building, more students of color and a growing population. A school board vote could iron out those differences.
Under a proposal headed to the school board for approval in June, attendance boundaries would be redrawn to balance the demographics at the two schools for the first time since Chanhassen High opened in 2009.
The changes come at a time when surrounding communities are growing so quickly that the district needs to build a new elementary school in Carver, where construction will start this fall.
At the high school level, Chaska High would no longer be the school with the higher concentration of kids of color and students on free lunch. At the elementary school level, the proposal includes a plan to put the dual Spanish and English immersion program into Chaska Elementary.
That move is having a domino effect, displacing more than 500 students from Chaska Elementary and more than 300 from another elementary school. As attendance area shifts tend to do, the plan is frustrating some parents whose children will have to switch schools.
At a May 10 district meeting to gather public reaction, the main concern was about elementary school students having to switch schools. But John Roemer, 49, who lives in Carver, voiced his concern over a change that would move three of his children to Chaska High School, where two of his six children currently attend. Roemer said his children are also troubled by the changes.
“They are not happy at all,” he said. “My seventh-grader runs track at Chan [Chanhassen]. He wants to stay there. He’s already meeting people there and getting involved in the high school.”
About 300 high-schoolers at Chanhassen would move to Chaska High, though students who are in high school next fall may be allowed to stay put. Chaska High School’s attendance area would grow as its new area dips south into the city of Carver to include students who now drive past Chaska High to attend Chanhassen.
At Chanhassen High, 3 percent of the student body is Hispanic and 2 percent is black, according to Minnesota Department of Education data. Eight percent of students qualify for free lunches. Chaska High’s population is 14 percent Hispanic and 6 percent black. More students qualify for free lunches: 26 percent.
The demographic divide matches the communities. In 2014, Chaska’s population of nonwhite residents hit 3,517 while Chanhassen reached 2,480. That same year, the U.S. census found that Chanhassen had 532 Hispanic residents, less than half of Chaska’s 1,988. While the cities are well off compared to neighboring suburbs, the median household income for Chaska is about $76,301 and $107,849 for Chanhassen.
Under the proposal, the two high schools would be almost evenly balanced by the 2020-21 school year. Chaska High School would be at nearly 18 percent students of color, and Chanhassen would be about 14.5 percent, said DeeDee Kahring, the district’s finance and operations director and a member of the Attendance Area Task Force.
The biggest reason for shifting the boundary was the imbalance in enrollment, said Lisa Anderson, Eastern Carver County Schools board chairwoman and member of the 40-person task force.
“Since we were balancing the enrollment between the two schools, there was some feeling that there’s so much to be learned from diversity,” she said.
High school changes
Task force members say they’ve worked to keep neighborhoods together and minimize the number of students who will change schools.
In the new proposal, students from neighborhoods on the border of Chanhassen and Chaska will go to Chanhassen High.
Henry Broback is a Chaska 11th-grader who served on the task force and said the group was “able to do what makes sense for the community.”
Chaska Mayor Mark Windschitl has opposed the changes throughout the process. Windschitl said no students living in Chaska should have to go to another school.
“The two schools are right on top of each other,” Windschitl said. “It is difficult to create boundaries.”
Chanhassen Mayor Denny Laufenburger fully supports the district’s proposal. He said Chaska and Chanhassen have always had a friendly rivalry.
“We recognize the differences between our communities, but we celebrate those differences rather than choose to use them as a wedge to drive between our communities,” he said.
The Eastern Carver County school district said it has invested more than $3 million in Chaska High School over the past four years.
Elementary school changes
The final proposal would shuffle students around in elementary schools as it makes Chaska Elementary home to La Academia, the district’s dual-language immersion school. That means students currently in Chaska Elementary will move to one of two schools: Clover Ridge Elementary or the new school in Carver, Anderson said. The proposal would also push back middle school start times.
Options include one that lets students in high school and middle school this fall stay in their school, even if their attendance area changes in fall 2017. Siblings will be given preference to be in the same school, Johnson said.
Students who want to switch schools can also use the district’s transfer process.
The proposed switch just makes sense, said Hannah Selken, a sophomore at Chaska High School. She lives on the Carver-Cologne border and open-enrolls into the district. She had assumed she’d go to Chanhassen with her middle school friends, but it puzzled her that kids living in Carver had to drive past Chaska High to get to Chanhassen High.
“When I heard they were finally changing the boundaries, I guess I was just kind of like, ‘Finally — why didn’t they do this a long time ago?’ ” she said.