Three schools in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District will close at the end of the current school year under resolutions adopted by the Board of Education this week.
The directors voted to close Metcalf Middle and Sioux Trail Elementary schools in Burnsville and M.W. Savage Elementary School in downtown Savage during their regular meeting Thursday.
"I believe these changes can and will be a catalyst for District 191 schools," Chairwoman Abigail Alt said, adding she believes the closures will be temporary and the district will grow again.
Looking ahead to another year of budget cuts, the move is expected to save around $2 million, according to Finance Director Lisa Rider.
The Board voted unanimously on the closure of Metcalf and M.W. Savage. Director DeeDee Currier voted against the closure of Sioux Trail Elementary.
"With two east-side schools on the closure list, I think 'geographic risk' is blinking in neon," Currier said after the vote, refering to concerns about the closures increasing open enrollment out of the district.
"Fairness, in my thinking, says an east side, a geographic middle and a west side school should be the recommendation."
Director Lesley Chester, wiping away tears during much of the meeting, said she landed on her decision because shifting buildings will be less painful than deeper budget cuts and losses to student programs.
Before the vote, Superintendent Theresa Battle said the changes are meant to forge a new vision for the district while addressing the current financial situation.
Declining enrollment, revenue loss and millions of dollars in budget cuts to staff, athletics and other costs led district officials to hire Dr. Roger Worner, an expert on facility planning, earlier this year to study the district’s buildings and look for savings.
Worner’s initial review, completed in June, found eight schools operate significantly under capacity when compared to state standards and recommended closing three of them. Specific schools were announced in November.
Around 93% of school faculty members and 68% of community members surveyed at a series of public meetings said the district has cause to close one or more schools.
But nearly every speaker at a public hearing earlier this month said closing Sioux Trail and Metcalf would drive families to open enroll into the neighboring Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan District.
“You have not seen the worst of the out-migration,” Barbara Feely, a parent of Sioux Trail and Metcalf students, told board members at a listening session before Thursday’s vote.
“As parents, we have to teach our children to do what is right as opposed to what is easy,” she said. “It would be easy to accept the consultant’s recommendation, but it wouldn’t be right.”
Laura Schmitz, a Burnsville parent of two young children, also hoped board members would make a different decision.
“You’re hammering a really, really vulnerable area of the district,” she said.
The district saw its lowest enrollment figure in a decade with 8,334 students last year, and the district projects the student count will drop to around 7,600 by 2023.
Last year, over 2,000 district students open-enrolled out of the district, over 800 students attended non-public schools, and 460 attended charter schools.
Between 2012-2013 and 2017-2018, the district's general fund balance dwindled nearly 33%. Officials expect the revenue loss caused by declining enrollment to continue.
The Board called a special meeting Thursday, Dec. 19 to discuss facilities, school boundary changes and next year’s budget.
Current projections show district officials will need to find roughly $2 million in budget reductions for the 2020-2021 year.
The higher operating levy recently approved by voters will generate around $1.6 million for general expenses, according to the district. That and the closures lowered the anticipated cuts for next year from $5.5 million.
Residents can share their thoughts on the boundary realignment process beginning next month, according to the district's timeline.
The boundary plans are expected to go before the Board on Jan. 23 before a final vote in early February.