Schools closed remainder of school year

The Governor has ordered all Minnesota schools to remain closed with distance learning in place through the end of the 2019-2020 school year to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Board may revisit past decisions, but our recommendations remain unchanged

Talk of the District with Superintendent Pontrelli
August 30, 2018

Earlier this week a local TV station reported that several board members have raised questions about expanding Brookview Elementary and reopening Oak Park Elementary. While the school board may choose to revisit the conversation at its September 13 meeting, the school district’s administrative recommendation remains unchanged. As does the data to support it.

The school board approved the closure of Oak Park, Marine and Withrow back in 2016. The decision was a difficult one to make, yet in the past year we’ve seen the benefits of right-sizing our district. While there have been financial savings as projected, the biggest and most impactful benefits have been realized by our students. Last year we were able to provide all of our students with more equitable learning experiences; the same will be true this year.  Here’s just a sample of the changes made in the past two years:

  • We’ve expanded support for elementary students by having advocates, and school psychologists or counselors in the buildings every day.

  • We’ve balanced class sizes.

  • We have Green Rooms staffed with behavior paraprofessionals in our elementary schools, and are expanding Yoga Calm to reduce behavior issues and help students focus on their school work.

  • We have an amazing new literacy program for elementary students.

  • We have been able to put more focus on social and emotional learning with Ready, Set, Go conferences, WEB and Link Crew, Responsive Classroom, Developmental Designs and B.A.R.R. (Building Assets, Reducing Risks) - impacting students at all levels.

  • We’ve implemented a successful middle school model.

  • We’ve seen our ninth graders failure rates drop dramatically last year as a result of B.A.R.R.

While I understand people have various opinions, it is important that we are all working from the same set of facts:

  • Closing schools was a difficult decision. Choosing to reopen a school would be as well. Doing so would have a negative impact on our students and families in terms of available funding for programs and support for our students. It would also require major disruptions to families as a result of another boundary change.

  • Re-opening Oak Park Elementary would take money away from our general fund. Closing the school saved approximately $400,000 annually. Money required to reopen Oak Park Elementary would come back out of our general fund, which is already facing a $2.5 million budget shortfall for the coming year. 

  • The addition to Brookview can be paid for with NO impact on our general fund - which pays for things like teachers, supplies, curriculum, etc.  A large portion of the $4 million to $5 million for the project would come from the sale of Washington School, sale of property in Afton, the pending sale of Marine Elementary, as well as a possible sale of the Central Services Building. It is critical to understand that, like anything else, the cost of adding on to Brookview will continue to increase over time as construction costs rise.

  • With yet another new housing development popping up within sight of Brookview Elementary School, we need to expand that building sooner rather than later. The school was intentionally built in such a way that classroom spaces could be added on easily. Even at the time of the 2015 bond, discussions about expanding the building were taking place. Right up to the start of construction, the school board and administration inquired about the possibility of adding on to the building, but were prevented due to a technicality in state law.

  • In order for construction to be completed so we could welcome additional families to Brookview in 2020, a school board decision to expand would need to be made no later than December of 2018.

  • There are some who feel Brookview does not need to be expanded, but that we could instead re-boundary the district and send students from the south up to schools further north. This was also discussed when the community-based boundary committee began its work in 2016, yet based on parameters set by the school board, it was found not to be a viable option. Instead the committee recommended a plan, which the school board approved, that provided for the efficient utilization of district facilities, balanced enrollment at elementary schools and middle schools, and to the extent possible, kept neighborhoods together.

We will be reviewing information with the school board at the September 13 meeting to help them understand the big picture enrollment trends, the long-term impacts, and future considerations related to our facility needs. We invite you to tune in to that meeting or watch our website in the coming days for additional information.