Starting in 2020, Jeffers Pond, Westwood and other elementary schools in the Prior Lake-Savage Area district will have different attendance areas following a school board vote Monday.
Among several changes, kids in the Knob Hill subdivision will switch from Jeffers Pond to Westwood. Neighborhoods stretching from Spring Lake Regional Park to Highway 79 will move from Five Hawks Elementary School to Jeffers Pond.
A large stretch from southern Prior Lake to St. Catherine and McMahon lakes will also swap from Grainwood Elementary School to Five Hawks.
Members of the Prior Lake-Savage Area school board chose attendance boundary option C4 after months of discussion. The district drew new attendance boundary options to make way for the construction and opening of Hamilton Ridge Elementary School in 2020.
The vote was short but emotional; after several board members gave support for C4, the option was moved forward and passed 4-2 with board members Mary Frantz and Enrique Velazquez dissenting. Board member Melissa Enger was not present. A few residents cried as votes were cast.
Several parents in prior meetings said redrawing attendance boundaries would split neighborhoods — such as in the case of Carriage Hills and Knob Hill — and lengthen travel times due to routes taking them all the way around Upper Prior Lake to an unfamiliar school, among other worries.
Members of the board briefly covered their reasoning and often praised district parents for their passion.
“I think (that passion) is evidence of how strongly people feel about being in this district,” Frantz said. “It shows that parents are advocating for their kids, and there’s nothing more personal than your kids. I prefer passion to apathy, that’s for sure, but most importantly to complacency.”
Board member Jonathan Drewes said he initially intended to vote for option B1 before C4 was introduced.
“The most important set of numbers for me is, at the end, what our capacity-use numbers are,” he said. “It was simply because of the numbers. Feedback from the community mattered enough that different options were brought to us.”
Outside the meeting, Drewes noted he had gone door-to-door to better understand the needs of district parents and kids.
“C4 is, to me, to some degree a compromise,” he said. “I see the best use of our resources as a district in C4.”
Board member Michael Nelson said she agreed no single plan will satisfy every family. She noted she had researched other districts and their attendance boundary changes.
“I have yet to see a plan where everybody is happy,” she said.
Board Chairwoman Lee Shimek said changes are inevitable as the district grows.
“I’m confident board members have done their due diligence and have not violated the open meeting law,” she added.
Parents in previous meetings had suggested board members had not been transparent with their discussions of boundary attendance options.
“I meet with the superintendent on a regular basis,” she said. “The vice chair also meets with the superintendent to discuss activities in the district so we have a better working knowledge on items that come up. This year we had three new board members with lots of questions.”
Shimek added no more than three board members met at a time. The meeting of more than three board members would have created a quorum, at which point the meeting would require public notice.
According to the law, serial meetings in groups less than a quorum held in order to avoid legal requirements would also be a violation. Private communication via phone, text or emails with the intent to avoid a public hearing or come to an agreement on an issue relating to official business could also violate the law.
In an email statement, Superintendent Teri Staloch wrote that school board members “have not violated open meeting law and have not discussed elementary attendance boundaries as a quorum outside of advertised school board meetings and study sessions.”
Responding to a question about legal action threatened by district residents at a previous meeting, Staloch referred to a quote from the board-approved Guiding Change document: “We will not violate laws, policies or agreements or program commitments.”