Stillwater Schools ISD 834 is proposing to close three elementary schools – Withrow, Marine and Oak Park. The plan calls for the three schools to be consolidated into the seven remaining schools in order to create what school district leaders are calling “right-sized elementary schools.” A parent-led group called “STOP BOLD COLD” has formed in opposition to ISD 834’s “BOLD” plan.
According to the district’s website, the BOLD (“Building Opportunities to Learn and Discover”) “right-sizing” plan: “…ensures all of our students would have an equitable learning experience no matter where they live and would create a more sustainable future.” District leaders are claiming that the district is currently about 1500 students under capacity and future enrollment projections show that four schools will be functioning at about 70% capacity over the next few years. Asserting that most of the new enrollment will occur in the southern area of the school district and not the northern part, ISD 834 denies that boundary changes will solve the issues the district faces.
Lance Cunningham, one of the leaders of the STOP BOLD COLD group, said in an interview that the district’s plans don’t reflect the reasons used by the district to pass a 2013 operating levy or the May 2017 building bond for a new elementary school in ISD 834’s Woodbury boundaries. He said that the opposition group’s first objective is to stop the proposal and ask the district to “come up with a better plan that reflects a shared vision between the district leaders and the affected communities,” and that the group “acknowledges the district’s financial issues,” but the district’s current proposal does not include any input from the community. He also questioned the district’s logic in claiming that busing children from the southern areas to the central schools wasn’t feasible, while proposing to close schools in the northern area which would require those children to be bused to the centrally located schools.
According to ISD 834’s presentation on December 17, 2015, the three schools proposed to be closed have current enrollments of 84% – 94%. However, along with the new school in Woodbury, the district will also be restructuring the current school structure from K-6, 7-9, 10-12 to a middle school model: K-5, 6-8 and 9-12, which will decrease some of the elementary schools’ enrollment numbers, but has little affect on others, particularly one of the schools proposed to be closed, Withrow, which is projected to continue to experience increased enrollment. The district also claims that the proposed plan will allow ISD 834 the ability to “reinvest” $1.26 million into other district programs.
Cunningham cites a board meeting from November 2014, where Director of Operations, Dennis Bloom, discusses ISD 834’s Long Range Facilities Plan saying, “…I want to be really clear on this one, as you look at repurposing. Our committee has never recommended or we never really discussed the closure of a school. We’re not looking at closing a school…”
Feeling blindsided by the proposals, members of the STOP BOLD COLD group point to the above-video and ask how plans could change a little over a year after Dennis Bloom made the “not closing schools” statements, especially after the community showed its support for the school district by passing both an operating levy referendum in 2013 and a building bond referendum in 2015?
Cunningham said that since the December 17 announcement and the organization of the STOP BOLD COLD group began, the group has been “overwhelmed by the outpouring by the people who want to get involved…”, so the group has organized a meeting at Withrow Elementary School (10158 122nd St N, Hugo, MN 55038) at 6pm on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2017, open to any community member who would like to get more information and get involved with the effort. They have also listed a number of other meetings residents can attend to speak out about the proposal as well as set up a petition on Change.org. The petition, started on Sunday, Dec. 20, already has 881 signatures.
Updated 12/22/2015 1:32pm