Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District families could see a plan for school closures, grade restructuring and boundary changes as soon as November.
The Board of Education expects to reach a final decision on how facilities will factor into budget cuts no later than Jan. 1 amid falling enrollment, according to a timeline presented by district administrators this month.
Board members agreed to adhere to a tight timeline at a work session on Aug. 8 and said they want to host a public hearing in November in hopes of reaching a decision before winter break.
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.
The district has slashed millions of dollars of spending in recent years, laying off staff and cutting athletic programs. The Educational Programming and Facility Review, provided by the Baker Tilly consulting firm last month, found underused facilities significantly contribute to the district’s financial strain.
Eight schools operate significantly under capacity when compared to state standards, the review found. It recommended closing two elementary schools and one middle school and selling the Diamondhead Education Center at the end of next school year.
Facing an estimated $5.5 million in cuts in 2020-2021, district officials are also considering a referendum to ask voters to approve a new operating property levy that would generate around $1.6 million a year for general expenses.
A group of administrators and school principals reviewed the facilities study and supported exploring the possibility of closing schools, selling the Diamondhead Education Center and reconfiguring grades at the elementary level, Assistant Superintendent Brian Gersich said at the recent work session.
They’d also like a neutral expert to facilitate the process, he added.
Gersich said grade reconfiguration could mean separating pre-kindergarten through second-grade students from third- through fifth-grade students in different schools, which could save money by filling more classrooms.
Gersich also said the entire decision-making process will focus on equity and creating a balanced district. Planning documents say creating inequities or racially or socio-economically identifiable schools is unacceptable.
“We have to be data-driven,” Chairwoman Abigail Alt said. “Objectivity and data has to drive our decision.”
Board Treasurer DeeDee Currier emphasized the importance of including voices from Community Education, the district’s all-ages education program, in the conversation. Participants in that program always played an important role in getting voters to the polls during a referendum, she said.
Currier also sits on the Intermediate School District 917 board. She said there are “some ideas that are not in this plan that could help us” related to the Cedar School in Eagan, where the Burnsville Alternative High School is located alongside other programs.
Currier worked as an administrator in the district for 20 years and cautioned against selling the Diamondhead Education Center and decentralizing administration.
“Finally, we get our administrative team all in one place, and now we are talking about moving people around,” she said. “We put a major investment in this site, and the whole idea from its inception ... was to be a multi-age, multi-use building.”
Superintendent Theresa Battle and board members said it’s important to find community partners to use the closed buildings.
“Unfortunately, in my long tenure as an educator, I’ve had too much experience in this area,” Battle said, referencing school closures in Osseo and Minneapolis.
Battle said St. Paul’s Conway Community Recreation Center was on the closing list when the city’s recreation department needed to cut costs, but a community partner stepped in to keep the facility running.
“It really is a hub of the neighborhood,” she said.
Alt said she expects enrollment to rebound at some point, and she also hopes community partners will step in in the meantime.
“This is an opportunity for us to right-size ourselves and have an even bigger impact on our families,” she said.