Wednesday, January 21, 2009

RAS Facility Plan: Equity or Seperation ?

Well, the very difficult decision has been made. RAS will:
  • close Pilgrim Lane Elementary, Sunny Hollow Elementary and Sandberg Middle Schools. (all in SW area)
  • move the Spanish Immersion program from the centrally located RALC building to the Sunny Hollow building
  • move the Sandberg students to the Robbinsdale Middle School. (ie RALC building)
  • consolidate other school services in the Sandberg building
When the final arguments were made, it seemed that only two criteria were highly weighted in the minds of most of the board members. Tom Walsh was the exception, and he made an excellent case for the other criteria. The two criteria used to make the decision were:
  • A strong fear of the "mega elementary" at RALC
  • A strong desire to have Elementary Schools that are equally distributed around the district
These are important criteria, however letting them dominate the decision has left us with some other consequences that will need to be addressed going forward. The following are some thoughts regarding the changes, criteria and consequences:
  • For better or worse, the district is now officially split almost right down the "VOTE yes/Vote no" boundary. (NE & SW)
  • Northport and Lakeview are still on their own. The "mega elementary" though scary in concept offered some incredible advantages for these kids and the district. First, the support services could have been consolidated and improved. Second, the class sizes could have been better stabilized due to more sections of each grade. Third, the mobility issue could have been reduced because a larger area of RAS would have attended the same school. Fourth, Spanish Immersion parent volunteers and students could have helped its sister school due to the close proximity. Fifth, additional "at risk" students may have become aware of and joined the immersion program. Sixth, half of the school is already an excellent Elementary and it would have kept the magnate school centrally located.
  • The district now has 2 schools to renovate rather than 1, and no funding has been confirmed. This will be a challenge, especially since the key "Vote YES" volunteers/donors are pretty frustrated right now.
  • The K-5 option keeps more sections per grade in the Elementary schools, which helps to stabilize class sizes and improve school efficiency.
  • Spanish Immersion is officially segregated from the rest of the district. (ie stand alone building in the SW and significantly different student demographics than the district) I am not implying a conspiracy, just stating facts. If "at risk" kids don't apply, they can not be picked.
  • There will be minimal extra capacity in the SW Elementary schools to accept intra-district transfers or open enrollees. Many currently intradistrict transfer from NE to SW. (likely not possible in future)
  • Robbinsdale and Plymouth Middle Schools will be very very full for the next few years.
  • RMS will need to receive updates to improve its capability to house a middle school as well as the Sandberg building does today. (how will the Sandberg pool facilities be used? Bus the kids from RMS, which does not have a pool?)
  • Economies of scale should be gained by having many of the school services at the Sandberg building. Now if we can just move the ESC offices and bus garage there and sell off the retail space.
  • Pilgrim Lane Elementary is available to open a great charter school in Plymouth. That is what the site is designed for. Hopefully the district personnel see a PLE charter as a great opportunity for the kids that are interested in the option, rather than a threat to RAS that needs stifled.

The definite positive of last night is that a decision has been made and parents/students can start making their plans for next year.


Scott said...

I understand you are frustrated by the decision and know it hurts. No one is happy, even those of us who supposedly "won" or who benefited from the decision.

I've respected much you have posted during the referendum were you talked a lot about community and how all kids benefit. Lately, you've been a bit partisan, understandably so. You've seem out of character, coming from your passion rather than your values.

I think your comments on who Votes Yes and who Votes No are overblown. Robbinsdale precints made up 15% of the yes voters, compared to Plymouth's 20%; we won all our precincts, just like Plymouth. The main issue facing 281on yes votes is right in the middle of the district: parts of crystal are disengaged with 281, even with a brand new neighborhood school.

On the monday before the election, I was coordinating volunteers who live in Robbinsdale to doorknock and drop literature in Plymouth.

Anyway, we are all in this together. These are our schools, and a lot of work needs to be done in terms of improving educational outcomes, teacher quality, and financial accountability. I hope you'll be able to resume this work with us.

Scott Johnson
Yes281 Co-Chair (retired)

DJ said...

Been off hunting around and looking for reaction to last nights decision. The biggest concern I have about the decision is how the middle school boundaries are drawn. The district desire to have those feeder schools may be asking for a lawsuit in the future. Compare the demographics of the two middle schools.

I did the math - sent it to the board but I'm sure it will get ignored. I posted a copy on my blog as well.

John said...

Ironically, I am probably the least passionate person regarding this topic. The decision has minimal impact on my kids. We are firmly in the center of the ZLE boundary. Meaning pretty much nothing changes other than PMS gets pretty crowded.

Now as for my principles, I believe in Cause and Effect. We, the district, have made a choice that will have ramifications going forward. Some will be good and some will be bad. Only time will tell.

I plan to keep supporting the RAS community and raising issues for discussion. Hopefully, I will still be allowed to work with you, even though we may disagree occasionally.

Have a great day !!! John

John said...

Scott, Sorry about the SW/NE line generalization, it was not meant to be precise. Just found it an interesting relation. I agree that there are school supporters in all areas of the district, and they are all appreciated.