Stillwater BOLD Frequently Asked Questions

School board members recently approved the BOLD plan to right-size our elementary schools. This means operating all of our elementary schools at a more effective and efficient level to ensure we are meeting the needs of ALL of our students.

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Why are district leaders recommending school closures?
District leaders believe it is better to invest our resources in support and programs for students than it is to pay for empty rooms. For more than 20 years our enrollment has been declining. We are a district built for about 10,000, but we’re currently serving just 8,300 students. As our enrollment has declined we haven’t adjusted our operations to match, instead we’ve raised class sizes, cut back on programs, and offered less support to our students. The capacity issue will become more pronounced when we move 600 sixth graders out of elementary schools and into the middle schools. Although preschool will account for some of the space vacated by sixth grade classes, by 2017-2018 our elementary schools district-wide will be at just 79 percent capacity, with four schools projected to be below 70 percent.

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Won’t closing three elementary schools make our remaining schools overcrowded?  
Many people incorrectly assume that closing three schools would leave the remaining schools overcrowded. By moving 600 sixth graders out of our elementary schools we will be creating space in each of the remaining buildings. One or two rooms may be needed for preschool, but it is not a one-for-one replacement. Some buildings will have more room than others, which is why boundaries will also be adjusted to better balance enrollment across the district.

Even if Marine, Oak Park and Withrow were closed, we would have room in our remaining schools for more than 4,000 students – while we’re projected to have just 3,627 kids in our elementary schools in 2017-2018.

Another thing to keep in mind is that our projections for 2017-2018 and beyond are based on an ideal capacity for our programming, not on how many students can physically fit into a school. For example, the ideal programming capacity of Lily Lake Elementary is 550 students, even though 828 students could physically fit within the building. Ideal programming capacity is based on an average of 25 kids per classroom with separate rooms for things like art, music, and media, as well as two rooms for preschool. Ideal capacity also accounts for specialized programs like GATE and Special Education cluster sites.

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Won’t class sizes increase in the remaining schools if three buildings are closed? One of the challenges we face when operating schools of various sizes is the ability to balance class sizes district-wide. Prior to school starting in September of this year we had 16 classrooms that were under the class size range and 27 classrooms that were over the range. To address this disparity, we implemented multi-grading in four of our elementary buildings.

There are no plans for changing the class size parameters set by the school board (see current ranges below). By closing three of our smallest schools there would be more classrooms at each grade level in a building, allowing us to spread students out across those classrooms. This allows us to more consistently fall within the current staffing ratios, and limits the number of classrooms below or above our ideal class sizes.

While exact numbers will change by the start of the 2017-2018 school year, early projections indicate that with the closure of three elementary schools we may have just two grade levels outside the range (one above and one below the range), impacting a total of six classrooms in our elementary schools. Changes in boundaries may mitigate this. 

 Staff RatioLowHigh
Gr. K21.4217.4225.42
Gr. 121.4217.4225.42
Gr. 225.4221.4229.42
Gr. 325.4221.4229.42
Gr. 429.4226.4232.42
Gr. 529.4226.4232.42
Gr. 629.4226.4232.42

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Why aren’t attendance boundary changes part of the school consolidation recommendation?
The decision to close schools is separate than that of changing attendance boundaries. Each has a variety of complexities that must be considered (see list below). The attendance boundary discussion will begin in March (see boundary timeline). A recommendation on attendance boundaries is expected to be made to the public and the school board in March 10, with final approval in April.

What we do know is that should a decision be made to close schools, the students who attend Marine, Oak Park and Withrow will fit into the remaining schools and current boundaries would change for all elementary schools. It is likely that students from the northern schools would be reassigned to Stonebridge and Rutherford. Students from Oak Park would likely move to Lily Lake and Andersen. Regardless of a school closure decision, changes would also be made to the Afton-Lakeland, Lake Elmo and Valley Crossing boundaries to move students to the new elementary school.

Some of the considerations that make up the boundary decision include:

  • Grandfathering of students
  • Student cohorts
  • Alternate and open enrollment
  •  2016 kindergarten
  • Balancing enrollment of middle schools
  • District-wide cluster programs (special education and GATE)

What costs are included in the per pupil differential between elementary schools and why do some schools spend more than others?
The numbers included in the cost per pupil graph cover all of the services provided to students within the school building. This includes things like teachers and support staff, custodial and maintenance costs specific to the building, equipment and technology, and building utilities (see specifics below).

Individual schools may spend more because of specialized programming, like district-wide special education or gifted and talented programming, or because there are fewer students to distribute costs between. There are additional district-wide costs, like transportation and textbooks, that are not included in this building per pupil cost. Research shows that schools of about 450 to 700 students are more cost-efficient to operate, have more balanced class sizes, and provide students with more equitable access to support services.

Costs included in 2015 per pupil spending by elementary school:

  • All staffing (salary and benefits) specific to that building
  • All utilities specific to that building
  • Non-instructional supplies specifically related to that building
  • Instructional supplies specifically related to that building
  • Copier lease expense for copiers at that building
  • Minor repairs/maintenance specific to that building
  • Other equipment specific to that building
  • Technology equipment specific to that building
  • Custodial supplies specific to that building

Why would we close three elementary schools at the same time we’re building a new school?
We recently sold our share in Valley Crossing Community School, which means we have nearly 300 students coming back into our system in 2017 and have no room in our southern schools to absorb them. That, coupled with significant growth occurring in Lake Elmo and Woodbury, created the need for a new elementary school in the southwestern part of the district.  

Essentially, our central and northern elementary school buildings are located in the wrong places. We have more buildings in the north of Highway 36 where current and projected enrollment is stabilizing or declining. The northern part of the district represents a large geographic area, yet it’s made up of large lots and rural acreage with very few students. In the south, small areas of high-density housing means hundreds of kids live in one small area of land. 

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Didn’t the successful levy mean we wouldn’t need to close schools?
When the levy was passed in 2013 we knew we’d have to continue to find efficiencies in the system. In fact, the levy proposed cut list that was shared in 2013 stated; “Some items on this list may need to be acted on to make up for our annual budget shortfall caused by inflation and rising costs or to fund new strategic planning initiatives even if a levy were to be renewed this fall.” We knew that even with the levy we’d need to find money within the system to pay for Bridge to Excellence and other initiatives - about $1.3 million annually.  We haven’t done that yet.

Closing schools has been discussed in this district for many years. Through many rounds of budget cuts and in discussions around levies, the topic has arisen. We’ve avoided school closures by making other cuts to the budget that have increased class sizes and reduced services to students. But after cutting our budget in 10 of the past 15 years, we’ve been left with holes in programming that have created inequities for our students. Our students are receiving a different educational experience depending on where they live. Watch this short video to learn more about why now is the time to consider school consolidation.

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Won’t staff and teachers lose their jobs with this proposal?
Very few jobs would be lost under this proposal. As students move to the remaining schools, staff will move also. Keep in mind by opening a new school in the southern portion of the district many positions will also be available. The proposal accounts for the release of 1.2 teachers and a reduction in support staff, such as clerical, custodians and food service. Keep in mind, however, that the building closures would not occur until the start of the 2017 school year and some of the impact on support staff will be lessened with retirements and other resignations that occur on an annual basis.

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Is there another option to consider without closing schools?
We’ve cut our budget for 10 out of the last 15 years and had to make many difficult decisions. Each year we’ve created committees of staff and community members to review our budget and find ways to reduce expenses, and they’ve tried to do so without impacting the classroom. As a result we’ve been left with programming that looks a bit like swiss cheese, with holes and gaps in the support we can provide to our students.

The reality is there are three areas of our budget to cut from: Staffing, which makes up 85 percent of our budget; and Operations and Learning, which together make up the remaining 15 percent. Without considering operational reductions - specifically the closing of buildings - there is very little left to cut that doesn’t directly impact our students. If we don’t close schools we need to come up with approximately $1.2 million annually to support our system - that equates to at least 12 teachers.

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Is the 2014 enrollment projections report still accurate in light of recent housing trends?

We've received a lot of questions about our enrollment projects. We've taken another look at the data, and gone back to the demographer, a forecaster from the Met Council and city planners. (See the latest demographer report). Even the most recent information continues to show growth for Woodbury, Lake Elmo and in the city of Stillwater, and confirmed that minimal growth is expected elsewhere in the school district. The growth, however, will not yield significant numbers of new students. The latest Met Council information shows we could gain about 180 birth to five-year-olds over the next six years. That's roughly 30 new birth to five-year-olds each year spread out across the district. During that same time period there is no overall projected growth in our six to 12-year-olds. Any new students would easily be absorbed into the system.

The forecasters, demographers and city planners we’ve talked to have all reminded us again and again that projections are never perfect. The further we try to predict out, the less exact projections can be. What is holding true, however, is that our communities are aging and we will continue to see the number of households with school-age children decrease in the coming years.

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Won’t the district lose funding if students choose to leave Stillwater Area Public Schools?
We are hopeful that students and families will stay with our district, and we also anticipate new open enrollment coming in to the district from outside of our southwestern boundaries. We understand that in the short-term we may lose some families. What many people fail to account for is that a loss of students brings not only a loss of revenue but a loss of expenditures as well. Fewer students would result in a corresponding reduction to staffing and a decrease in other expenditures.

Mounds View, a district similar to us in demographics, retained 93 percent of the students from the two schools they closed. For us, a similar retention rate would mean a loss of between 45 and 50 students. We anticipate the loss in revenue would be absorbed in staffing adjustments.

Bottom line: The BOLD proposal didn’t start as a financial discussion, but as a way to better meet the needs of students. Consolidation allows us to balance class sizes and provide our students with more support. Better learning was the impetus of the plan and we believe this will happen regardless of an increase or loss in student enrollment.

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How long will kids from Marine and Withrow be on a bus?
The distance it would take for students in the northern-most part of the district to travel to either Stonebridge or Rutherford is about the same as for our southern-most students to travel to Afton-Lakeland. Of the 463 students that ride the bus to Afton-Lakeland, just 27 students have a one-way ride longer than 45 minutes. There are also about 24 students from Andersen and Lake Elmo that have rides of 45 minutes or longer.

All of the students who currently ride shuttle buses from Stonebridge to Withrow are on the bus for 40 minutes, and the Marine shuttle ride is 45 to 50 minutes one-way. We are able to find creative ways to draw our bus routes that enable us to shorten ride times. Depending on exactly where students live and how routes are drawn, the bus ride for our northern-most students would likely be less than an hour, and routes would be shorter for Marine and Withrow students living nearer to the district center. Keep in mind, the average ride time for students district-wide is 38 minutes.

Watch the transportation presentation that explains busing times.

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What benefits would my student have if the district closes schools?
Right-sizing ensures all of our students have equitable support no matter where they live and would create a more sustainable financial future - one without annual budget cuts and dismantled programs. By right-sizing schools ALL students will get:

  • More equitable learning experiences
  • Improved access to support services 
  • A student-centered middle school experience
  • Support for ninth graders transitioning to high school
  • Improved access to technology support
  • More balanced class sizes across the district
  • Long-term stability for staffing, operations and LEARNING