Closing a school is never an easy decision, even when financially it makes sense. That's why the end of East Union Elementary, in the southwestern corner of Eastern Carver County School District, will be an emotional celebration in 2022.
East Union, opened in 1963 near the intersection of County Roads 43, 40 and 50, has a current enrollment of 111 students.
"East Union represents the history of this district. It's the last vestige of what Chaska always was. And now it's going to be gone," school board director Fred Berg said. "I can't help but mourn about that. It's sort of a sad day when they have to close what was an icon of what this district stands for. Small schools, quality education."
A decade ago, roughly 170 students were enrolled at East Union. By next year a projected enrollment of 105 is expected. That number would decrease lower than 90 by the end of this decade.
DeeDee Kahring, director of finance and operations in District 112, said while ECCS will save roughly $540,000 a year with the closing, a deferred maintenance tag of $5.7 million will also be lost.
The school board laid out a plan in Feb. 2020, after the failure of the 2019 referendum that provided two paths to closure of East Union. One hinged on a proposed bond levy in a referendum to build a new elementary school.
With the enrollment surge halted due to the pandemic, a proposed new building in the western part of the district is on hold.
That left a second path, a closure of the school at the end of the 2021-22 school year.
Just 12 months away, many people have reached out to the district with questions. Right now there are many unknowns, including where East Union students will attend school next.
"We know people would like to know now where students would go, what school they would attend. There are many moving parts to the equation including where will student enrollment be in the fall. Given the pandemic, we have not yet see the enrollment come back, but maybe that will change," Kahring said.
A boundary task force will begin its work in December in a proposed schedule set forth by Kahring and her team.
School board director Jenny Stone has been through this before. When Clover Ridge Elementary opened, part of the city of Carver shifted.
"I'm an East Union mom. Very first kid, very first school. But I was also the first class at Clover. When we built Clover we moved half of Carver to Clover Ridge. We went through what a lot of these East Union parents are wondering. How will the boundary task force move things? We were like, are we staying at East Union, or are we moving to Clover?" Stone said.
Stone said their family was among those shifted to Clover Ridge from East Union.
"It was new, it was scary. ... But the whole thing went really smooth for us. We had the summer to talk about it. We drove by the new school. Adjusted. It was seamless. It seemed like I was more nervous than my third grader was," Stone said.
While East Union will close in 2022, a 19,000-square foot addition at Carver Elementary hopes to be completed by the start of the 2022-23 school year, adding space for an additional 150 students; 900 total.
The current price tag of the addition is $9.1 million.
Kahring said the District will begin the process immediately, with the planning stage already underway.
"When the school was built, and we sold this to the community if you will, it was under the understanding that (an addition) would be built; added on to at a later date. That's why the cafeteria, we have two gyms, both are oversized to accommodate core space to meet larger needs," Kahring said.
Kahring said the tax impact on a $300,000 house with the current tax base is about a $1.40 per month.
The most common question throughout the Carver Elementary addition process over the last few months has been "why wasn't this part of the original plan?"
"We're asked, why don't you plan ahead? While that sentiment does happen, it is dramatically less voluminous than the sentiment don't spend a nickel more than you need," board director Tim Klein said.
Other school board news:
- Chanhassen senior Nick Becker's two-year tenure as student representative of the school board came to an end with the May meeting. "My time as a student liaison for the District 112 school board has given me incredible insight into the inner workings of our district. More than that it has strengthened my desire to be a teacher and future administrator. Thus, I'm grateful for my strong educational background and I cannot wait to see where I go from here."
- The school board approved the lease purchase agreement of 37 new buses and 50 used buses, a price tag of more than $6.7 million. ECCS will begin in-sourcing much of its transportation services this fall. The district will pay for the annual lease payments from the transportation budget.