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Farmington School Board sees orange at meeting, votes White for boundary change

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Farmington School Board sees orange at meeting, votes White for boundary change
Farmington Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

Autumn Meadows residents objected to decision

Nathan Hansen

Editor

Despite a last-minute plea from a group of orange-clad residents from the Autumn Meadows neighborhood, the Farmington School Board voted unanimously Monday to approve its White option for attendance boundary adjustments.

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The option, which will move about 25 students in Autumn Meadows from North Trail to Meadowview Elementary School and will affect 225 students overall, was one of three created by an attendance boundary committee. Autumn Meadows residents, who were the only ones to speak Monday, favored the district’s Orange option, which affected 216 students, fewest of the three, and left Autumn Meadows students at North Trail.

Residents pointed out that the White option leaves North Trail at just 85 percent of its enrollment capacity while the other district elementary schools will be at 95 to 96 percent of capacity. They also argued that the White plan would separate students in their neighborhood from their school and from the other students in their class.

“We will be an isolated group of houses under the Orange and the Black plans,” said Eric Van Heel, one of three parents who spoke Monday. “The Orange plan is the only plan that does not severely isolate students from Autumn Meadows.”

Jane Houska, who led the boundary adjustment process for the district, said the committee formed for the process felt it was important to leave more space at North Trail because it is the most likely to experience growth in the near future. There is a lot of undeveloped land around Meadowview, she said, but no plans for development there in the next five years.

“(The committee) felt like we needed to provide North Trail with some room to handle growth,” Houska said.

Other parents have argued that the district’s proposed boundary changes would affect their own neighborhoods. Residents on Camden Path, Camden Court and Camden Circle would move from Farmington Elementary to Riverview Elementary under all three of the district’s plans, and parents there said that would cut their students off from their classmates.

Christopher Gangl, who lives in Autumn Meadows but doesn’t yet have a student in school, said choosing the White option does not follow the district’s own guidelines, which include attempting to minimize the number of students affected, minimize the number of neighborhoods affected and consider natural and man-made barriers between students and their school. The orange option affects fewer students, he pointed out.

“We were most disappointed with the board and committee’s decision making process, which failed to meet objective goals, respond to community input, and support the best interests of All Farmington, students,” Gangl said after the meeting.

The district has said the attendance boundary adjustments are necessary because three elementary schools are over capacity while two others are well under. The district also expects to need six additional kindergarten classrooms next year when the state starts providing funding for all-day kindergarten.

There were three public meetings for residents to raise concerns about the options, and the committee formed to study boundary changes considered making adjustments to their proposed plans, but board chair Tera Lee, who served on the boundary committee, said it became impossible to address everyone’s concerns.

“To really do what they wanted us to do, we were going to have to rearrange the whole town,” she said.

Finance director Carl Colmark said there were neighborhoods in the Black and Orange plans that would have been affected “in a negative way” if the district had chosen one of those options.

School board member Laura Beem questioned the decision-making process and suggested that the district changed its criteria for choosing a plan. She argued the district should have done a better job of explaining the data behind its decision.

But Lee said objectives didn’t change. Some feedback simply took precedence over other comments.

“Somebody has to be unhappy and somebody has to change schools,” Lee said.

Beem ultimately supported the White option, as did all other board members.

The board’s vote Monday will give current fourth- and seventh grade students a chance to remain at their own school next year if they choose. It will also create a lottery that will allow students to remain at their current school next year if there is room. Applications for changing schools should be available by mid-January.

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Nathan Hansen
Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.
(651) 460-6606
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