After more than an hour of emotional comments from parents and 3 1/2 more hours of discussion, the Robbinsdale school board voted late Tuesday to close three schools next year in an effort to save $2 million a year.

The board, which has struggled with how to improve efficiency in a district whose student population has shrunk over the years, voted to close Sandburg Middle School in Golden Valley, Pilgrim Lane Elementary School in Plymouth and Sunny Hollow Elementary School in New Hope, even though it also had been presented with two other cost-cutting alternatives.

Both of those alternatives also involved closing schools.

"There is no good choice here," said Beth Sharpe, president of the PTO at the Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School and one of many speakers in the public comment portion of the meeting at district headquarters in New Hope. "All of them are difficult, and all are going to cause difficulty in the lives of our students."

Tuesday's 6-1 board vote ended, for all intents and purposes, the decision-making process, even though the board will have to hold separate hearings on each school slated for closing. Those hearings, likely to be held in the next couple of weeks, will be used primarily as a means to tell parents what happens next.

Some parents who spoke Tuesday warned that school closings could result in many families pulling their children out of district schools and enrolling them elsewhere.

"My fear is that I could lose my passion for our district," Colleen Kennedy, who put in a plea for Pilgrim Lane Elementary, told the board. "I need to be convinced that what you choose is best for students."

Parents of children in the three schools slated for closing won't be the only ones affected by the vote to close. With the closings will come school boundary changes, meaning that a number of children in schools that are not being closed could wind up in other schools next year.

District spokesman Jeff Dehler said officials will send letters out as soon as early February with information about new school assignments.

Consultants charged with examining space in district schools had said the district could operate more efficiently by closing three schools.

Several criteria were used to determine which schools should be closed, including whether schools had too few students and too much space based on their enrollment. Ultimately, said board members, the course they favored simply made too much sense for a district that faces enrollment declines and wants to avoid future budget deficits.

Over the course of the community discussion, board members have been bombarded with e-mails and phone calls about the possible closings. Earlier this month, a public forum at Robbinsdale Cooper High School to discuss the proposed closings drew 400 people.

The Robbinsdale School District serves about 12,500 K-12 students in all or parts of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Golden Valley, New Hope, Plymouth and Robbinsdale.

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547