District 834 looks into revising boundariesSchool boundaries might seem like old hat for families of the South Washington Schools, but for the Stillwater Area School District, it’s just beginning.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
School boundaries might seem like old hat for families of the South Washington Schools, but for the Stillwater Area School District, it’s just beginning.
District 834 has begun work on revising its attendance boundaries as part of its Vision 2014 since the district currently has two elementary schools — Lake Elmo Elementary and Rutherford Elementary — that are over crowded.
Lake Elmo Elementary currently has 778 students enrolled, which is at 104 percent capacity, and Rutherford Elementary has 766 students which is at 103 percent capacity.
“That area of our school district is going to be one of the areas that grows, so to o ignore the problem, each year is going to get worse,” interim superintendent Tom Nelson said. “We need to ease the burden on those two schools.
“As a district, we have capacity, sometimes it’s just in the wrong places.”
Currently District 834 has formed an attendance boundary committee with citizens to develop possible options. So far, a total of two meetings have been held.
The attendance boundary committee held a meeting on Tuesday.
Nelson, who was formerly the superintendent for District 833, said the District 834 attendance boundary revision is nowhere near what was done in South Washington County.
“This is a fraction of what was done in South Wash,” he said. “But, it’s never easy to do boundaries.”
Nelson said the number of students who would have to move schools would be a very small percentage of the district’s population, possibly only around a couple hundred.
District 834 School Board member George Hoeppner said the opinion among parents has been the same so far.
“Everyone kind of has the mind set ‘Go ahead and do this, but don’t move my child,’” he said.
Who is affected?
In regard to the portion of Woodbury and Afton students who attend Stillwater schools, a portion of Woodbury could see a significant effect since a majority of Woodbury students attend Lake Elmo Elementary.
“The more students we can move, the better it is long term,” Nelson said. “But, our critical issues now revolve around those two schools and the question becomes how far can you move students.”
Nelson said it is too soon to tell if Woodbury will see significant changes, or where the changes will occur.
In addition to Lake Elmo Elementary, Stillwater students who live in Woodbury also attend Afton-Lakeland Elementary and Valley Crossing Community School, in Woodbury.
District 834 is the only school district, at Valley Crossing, that has attendance boundaries for students. The other districts have a choice.
Nelson said Valley Crossing is definitely a consideration that plays into the attendance boundary decision.
So far, the committee has not identified any options of what students would move or how they would alleviate the crowding.
“It’s hard to say who will move because we’re going to have to do something with those two schools,” District 834 operations manager Dennis Bloom said. “Because each year going out, those schools are getting more and more crowded.”
Nelson said he believes that the boundary revisions will have a positive effect on the teachers and the schools since it will alleviate some of the crowding and lack of resources.
“When you crowd a building, it takes away flexibility in the building,” he said.
Presently the attendance boundary committee is starting to split the different schools up into neighborhoods to better make a decision on where students should move and if moving is even an option.
Additionally, the attendance boundary committee will look at student achievement at the various schools since the school sizes can potentially be a contributing factor.
“We have some school buildings that are under capacity and might be achieving very well because of small class sizes, but at the same time if you have over crowding there could be lower achievement — we have to educate all these kids,” Hoeppner said. “We have to make it better for everybody, not just this little group of kids.”
In addition to revising elementary school boundaries, District 834 is also looking at possibly revising some of the middle school attendance boundaries since there are a couple elementary schools within the district that have students move to two different middle schools.
The tentative timeline for the attendance boundary decision is to hold three more attendance boundary committee meetings to develop options, hold three public meetings and hopefully the District 834 School Board will take action at its Feb. 10 meeting.
The reason for the speedy turnaround is so that the changed can be implemented for the next school year, Bloom said.
Nelson said revising attendance boundaries would not be an easy decision since families are always hesitant of change.
“People get very close attachments to their schools,” he said. “All of us understand that this can become emotional rather than rational really quick.”