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Students head to class on the first day of the 2019-2020 school year at Scenic Heights Elementary in Minnetonka. (Sun file photo by Jason Jenkins)

Board will work on a strategic plan around impact of enrollment change

The Minnetonka School Board voted unanimously Oct. 3 to freeze K-12 enrollment at 11,100 students, which is near the district’s current enrollment of 11,062 students.

Board Chair Lisa Wagner said an enrollment limit was placed on the board’s agenda because the board had been hearing from the community regarding the district’s target enrollment and enrollment capacity.

“And we as a board have had a longstanding discussion about the fact that ... our schools are essentially set. We’re done growing,” Wagner said. “And we’ve had a lot of people question that, and it hasn’t been clear to the public.”

Wagner said the school board decided to focus on enrollment management “and talk about the target enrollment for the district from September of this year going forward.”

According to the district, 3,737 students (34%) are currently attending Minnetonka schools through open enrollment – and come from 46 school districts.

“In accordance with the district’s enrollment strategy, Minnetonka welcomes open enrolled students to enjoy the benefits of Minnetonka programs and staff,” said JacQueline Getty, the district’s executive director of communications, in an enrollment report to the board. “The success of open enrollment means the district has been able to stabilize enrollment in all neighborhood elementary schools and increase overall revenue to sustain our programs.”

The district does deny some applications for open enrollment. Superintendent Dennis Peterson said the district turned away 200 to 250 students this year and that some grades are closed to open enrollment in certain schools. He said the move helps to ensure that class sizes do not grow too large.

In 2015, the district identified its overall student capacity to be 10,550 students. This year, the capacity number has grown to approximately 12,000 students. 

According to district officials, the capacity number was recalculated after the remodeling of underutilized spaces that have provided more instructional space, including work at Minnetonka High School to convert unused locker rooms into five classrooms and collaboration space. The district also purchased an office building, at 18707 Old Excelsior Blvd., which has been used for the high school’s professional studies program VANTAGE. According to the district, the 2015 capacity also didn’t include the multiple rooms and meeting spaces in the Welch building on Baker Road, which are also used for VANTAGE classes. 

“No school is at its capacity,” the superintendent said. “Some are getting closer and we are managing that enrollment. The strategy the principals and I have used up to this point is we want to stay where we were last year, but we don’t want to go under.”

The superintendent cautioned that a reduction or freeze on enrollment could have negative financial impacts to the district in the future and noted that open enrollment has greatly helped the district.

According to the district’s enrollment report, among the 921 kindergarten students, 345 students are attending through open enrollment. To demonstrate the financial impact of open enrollment, Getty pointed out that if the district only had resident kindergarteners, the reduction in revenue would be $3.45 million per year.

“And over time, that class being with us 13 years, that would result in $44.85 million in lost revenue,” she said. 

The report also noted that the district has brought in an additional $203 million since 2007 through its enrollment growth model and by using open enrollment to help reach its target enrollment levels.

“We are in a unique position where we can stop taking open enrollment for a grade or a classroom once we kind of fill. Open enrollment also gives us that financial flexibility to add a para or teacher if we need to,” Getty said.

According to the district, all schools are at or near their target enrollment levels, which is the number of students that principals and the superintendent agree should be the limit for each school. The capacity of a school is determined by the number of classrooms and the target enrollment for each classroom. The district considers target enrollment as the ability of other facilities in the school to accommodate the respective overall number of students.

These are the district’s enrollment capacities and current enrollment figures for each school:

Minnetonka High School – capacity: 3,800 students, current: 3,399 students

Minnetonka Middle School East – capacity: 1,350 students, current: 1,322 students

Minnetonka Middle School West – capacity: 1,350 students, current: 1,252 students

Clear Spring Elementary – capacity: 920, current: 881 

Deephaven Elementary – capacity: 745, current: 647

Excelsior Elementary – capacity: 901, current: 813

Groveland Elementary – capacity: 912, current: 899

Minnewashta Elementary – capacity: 1,024, current: 946

Scenic Heights Elementary – capacity: 963, current: 907

With a fixed limit on enrollment, the board will now work on goal three of its 2019-2020 goals: To create a 10-year strategic plan for the district with a specific lens toward the implications of flattening enrollment and the state-imposed levy cap.

As outlined in the board goals on the school website, key actions included in the goal three include space and capacity plans for students, classrooms and non-instructional spaces; facility upkeep and maintenance plans for education and non-instructional spaces; a technology plan for fixed assets (infrastructure) and variable (students, staff, vendors) needs and expenses; cost savings options (refinancing debt, alternative utilities including solar gardens, etc.) with the goal of maximizing expense efficiencies; and curriculum that is demonstrably meeting the needs of tomorrow’s workforce.

 

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