Students in the classroom

Students read and practice writing at M.W. Savage Elementary.

Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District officials preparing to redraw school boundaries also expect a wave of new variance requests from parents wanting their child to attend a school other than the one assigned.

With three schools closing this year, the Board of Education needs to decide how to handle variance requests under new circumstances. One district official said some options might overcrowd classrooms.

Directors discussed three policy options at their Dec. 9 meeting but haven’t reached a final decision and said they plan to gather more feedback from parents.

First, district officials could decide to suspend variance enrollment entirely for next year, said Stacey Sovine, the district’s executive director of human resources.

“Then the following year we can start accepting variances again based upon the capacity and the needs of the buildings,” he said.

But several board members opposed the idea. Students currently attending a school on a variance would be sent back to their assigned school.

Director DeeDee Currier said the plan would especially harm families who access child care near their current school.

“That’s very punitive,” she said.

Sovine said the district for now favors variance requests for children of a school staff member or a student with a sibling at the requested school.

Half of the remaining seats in under-capacity classrooms are then set aside for other variance students.

The second option on the table would make no changes to how the district handles variances.

The third would allow Superintendent Theresa Battle to modify the variance acceptance practices and tweak the district’s preferential treatment, entrusting her to consider next year’s unusual situation.

Elementary students currently don’t have to reapply for their variance until they move to middle school.

Director Lesley Chester said the arrangement might disadvantage former Sioux Trail Elementary, M.W. Savage Elementary and Metcalf Middle school students displaced by their schools’ closing, putting them second or third in line, she said.

Chester also wondered how the policy will treat families who are looking to return to the school they’ve been assigned away from after the boundary realignment.

The discussion then broadened to class sizes.

Guidelines for maximum class sizes won’t change if the district’s variance practices remain the same, Sovine said, but modifying the process could bring increases if it allows more families to take the variance option.

“That’s one of the things we told people we were going to avoid,” Director Jen Holweger said of bigger classes.

Elementary class capacity currently sits around 25 students per teacher.

Miller said the district needs to ask parents directly about how they weigh increasing class sizes against their desire for their variances. Most families at Rahn and Harriet Bishop elementary, for example, would likely prefer larger class sizes if it means staying at those schools, he said.

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