After referendum passes, three schools now on the chopping block

Near the end of this 281 press release, you’ll see stats of Robbinsdale School District’s declining enrollment. We used the stats to justify voting no on the referendum. They use the stats to justify closing three schools.

School closing recommendation made
Robbinsdale district to hold public meeting Jan. 13

New Hope, Minn. – A facilities study team led by Wold Architects and Engineers recommends closing Sandburg Middle School and Pilgrim Lane and Sunny Hollow Elementary Schools at the end of this school year to right-size Robbinsdale Area Schools. The recommendation is one of four options that the team will present to the school board on Monday, January 5. Selection of one of the options is intended to help the school district run more efficiently by solving the district’s excess capacity problem. A December report indicated the district has enough excess capacity to consider closing up to two elementary schools and potentially one middle school due to recent declines in enrollment. The facilities study was identified by the community as an important goal in the district’s 2008 five-year Strategic Plan.

“We will keep our referendum promises to lower class size and restore the programs and activities that were cut over the last two years,” said Superintendent Stan F. Mack. “We can sustain these restorations for a longer period of time by right-sizing our operation.”

The four options that will be considered by the board propose closing different combinations of schools. The “Two Phases” option would close Pilgrim Lane and Lakeview Elementary Schools in 2009-10 and close a middle school in 2012-13. The “K-6” option moves 6th grade to elementary schools, closes Northport and Lakeview Elementary Schools and Robbinsdale Middle School in 2009-10. Most Northport and Lakeview students would move to the former Robbinsdale Middle School space alongside Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School (RSIS). The “K-5” option closes Pilgrim Lane and Sunny Hollow Elementary Schools and Sandburg Middle School in 2009-10. It also moves RSIS to Sunny Hollow. A “K-5” option variation would close Pilgrim Lane and Noble Elementary Schools and Sandburg Middle School in 2009-10. It moves RSIS to Sandburg.

The Wold team chose the K-5 option as its recommendation because:

  • It is the most efficient as it achieves the highest percentage capacity of any of the options;
  • It produces immediate savings  in operations costs;
  • Enrollment projections indicate the district will likely be right-sized for the next 10 years;
  • Preserves and potentially enhances current education initiatives for all grades;
  • It aligns four elementary schools and one middle school with each high school attendance area which aligns all schools to potentially offer International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement programming;
  • And it relocates the popular Spanish immersion program (which has a large waiting list each year) to a building where a decision to grow the program by one section at each grade level is possible.

“The other options don’t deliver the same scale of benefits, and they don’t support as efficient a delivery of educational initiatives,” said Scott McQueen, project manager for Wold.

No matter which option is chosen by the school board, the popular International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IBMYP) and the pre-Advanced Placement programs at the middle school level would be kept intact, and in some options would have an opportunity to expand.

“We understand that closing facilities is very hard for families, students, staff and community members,” added Mack. “We wish there were other alternatives to closing buildings, but this painful process has been something we’ve needed to do every few years since the 1970s after our enrollment peaked.”

Assumptions and criteria
The Wold team evaluated various options to solve the district’s excess capacity problem using the following assumptions and criteria:
Assumptions:

  • Recommend creative solutions equal to the scale of the excess capacity problem
  • Focus on options that save the most money or provide added value at the least expense
  • Recommend buildings to be closed and sold

Criteria:

  • Solutions must geographically balance schools across the district
  • Solutions must preserve remodeled buildings and divest of unremodeled buildings when possible

Sub-criteria:

  • Close smaller schools before larger schools; smaller schools are less efficient to operate than larger schools
  • Close schools with small attendance before those with larger attendance; schools with small attendance are less efficient than schools with larger attendance.

Timeline
The public is invited to ask questions and provide input at a meeting Tuesday, January 13, 2009, 7 p.m. at Robbinsdale Cooper High School, 8230 47th Ave. N., New Hope.

The school board will hear the presentation of the options by the Wold team at its 7 p.m, January 5 meeting; will discuss the options at its 5:30 p.m., January 12 work session; and is planning to make its decision on which plan to implement at its 7 p.m., January 20 meeting. All meetings are held at the Education Service Center, 4148 Winnetka Ave. N., New Hope. The meetings of January 5 and 20 will be carried live on Ed’s TV Cable Channel 22, and will be replayed at the following times during the week of the board meeting: Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.; Thursday at 8 a.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. The Wold team’s Facilities Study report, including the problem, the solutions, possible attendance boundaries and the enrollment report are available on the district’s website at http://www.Rdale.org <http://www.Rdale.org&gt; .

About the district’s excess capacity problem
The Wold team said in a mid-study report in December that the district currently has excess capacity of 1,450 students at the elementary level and 800 at the district’s middle schools. According to demographer Hazel Reinhardt, the district’s enrollment is expected at the elementary level in the next few years, and will not see an increase in enrollment in the next 10 years. “The district is doing a good job of retaining students from year to year, but there are simply fewer children entering kindergarten each year primarily due to lower birthrates which will lead to a continuing decline in enrollment,” she said.

School closing history
Robbinsdale Area Schools’ peak enrollment was 28,101 students in 1971. Since then, the school-aged population has declined, and the district’s enrollment has dropped. In 2005-06, enrollment was 13,087. This year’s enrollment is 12,349, a drop of nearly 750 students since 2005-06 when the district last closed a facility (New Hope Elementary). Since 1971, the district has continuously evaluated its facilities needs and closed facilities when necessary. In 1972, prior to the inception of the community education and special education programs, 31 buildings were open. Currently, 15 buildings are used as schools; five are used by community education, special education, administration and other programs; four have been leased to other organizations; and seven have been closed and sold.

Robbinsdale Area Schools operates 11 elementary schools (K-5), three middle schools (6-8), two high schools (9-12) and an alternative high school in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis, including all or parts of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Golden Valley, New Hope, Plymouth and Robbinsdale.

Here’s the chart we showed before the November election: Total enrollment (blue line) & General Fund Revenue (green line)…

What’s wrong with this picture? More revenue for fewer students and now fewer schools!  We agree with the closing of  schools, not the referendum and spending by the district. By all means, attend the January 13 meeting.

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