Board likely to wait until after Legislative Session for funding requests
Members of the Growth Task Force presented their recommendation, to build a ninth elementary school to accommodate the rapidly growing north and northwest communities of Plymouth, Corcoran and Medina, to the Wayzata School Board at the Feb. 13 board meeting.
The 25-member task force was created to review student enrollment, housing trends and demographic data and advise the school board on how to plan for anticipated growth at the elementary level.
Board Chair Chris McCullough asked the task force members at the meeting whether there were other options to recommend, such as adding on to current facilities in the district.
“There really aren’t great options to add on,” task force member Derek Diesen said, other than at Oakwood Elementary, located on the south side of the district where the growth isn’t occurring. The growth is happening on the north side of Highway 55, and will affect everyone in the district, he said.
“It will impact every school,” Diesen said, suggesting each school would otherwise be full, and could potentially lead to busing students farther to accommodate space issues.
Kristin Tollison, district administrative services director, spoke further on that issue and assured the board of the district’s effective use of its facilities.
“We don’t have a ton of square-footage per student. We’re using our facilities very effectively,” she said.
Task force member Allison Storti spoke about the value of having additional space to maintain smaller class sizes across the district.
“As an educator and as a parent there is so much value in having that additional space in our schools ... all kids need adequate, optimal learning spaces,” Storti said.
Storti pointed out the task force also found it important to maintain the current buildings so that all students have consistent experiences “no matter what building they go to.”
According to a recent housing and enrollment study, if current housing trends continue, the district expects approximately another 1,000 K-12 students by 2019. The study indicates new housing developments are being built two to three times more rapidly than developers had projected in the north, and there is stable enrollment growth in the southern part of the district as older homes turn over to younger families.
The task force’s main concerns were determining the timing of an elementary school building project, along with what it would mean for taxpayers, expressed Page Fleeger, task force member and parent of a Meadow Ridge student.
While McCullough noted the board would not take formal action that evening, the board would incorporate the findings into its comprehensive review of district-wide facilities, which is currently underway. Additionally, the board would include this recommendation in the overall budget review, which will take place this spring; and conduct future work sessions.
“I think it is important for the community to know that for many years, unfortunately, the state funding has not kept up with inflation and it hasn’t kept up with the increasing needs of our students and our educational costs,” McCullough said, noting “the unfortunate result has been more than $16 million in cuts since 2009, with more projected in the next year.”
As the board reviews its budget, McCullough said the board members will look at whether the district needs to ask voters to increase the district’s operating levy, something it hasn’t done since 2005. He also noted the district has a lower per student operating levy than many neighboring districts.
“We are a growing school district and we need both state and local funding to support that growth,” McCullough said.
Because the state is a partner in school funding, McCullough said the board will likely wait until the legislative session is finished to finalize “any funding requests that we might make of our residents.”
Contact Kristen Miller at Kristen.Miller@ecm-inc.com.