Why I Support the 2015 Eastern Carver County Schools Referendum

Starting in the fall of 2012, I had the privilege of participating on the Eastern Carver County Schools Early Childhood-Grade 8 Task Force, which was charged with developing a plan to optimize use of the school district’s facilities to manage a growing population in those age groups.

At that time, our schools were already challenged by population growth on the western side of the district, with Clover Ridge, Victoria, and East Union Elementary Schools all operating over capacity. Simultaneously, the district had started its La Academia Spanish immersion elementary school program. And finally, the district’s Family Learning Center (home of many of its Early Childhood Education programs) — which had been temporarily relocated to Chaska High School — knew that it only be able to stay in that location for a few years, because growing high school enrollment meant that the high school would eventually have to reclaim that space for its own use.

Over the course of two years, our Task Force (in concert with another group tasked with evaluating facilities for high school students) evaluated many different options to best solve these challenges. We crunched numbers and drew up many different possible boundary maps to try and cram students into the existing buildings. We explored ideas like shuffling 5th graders into the middle schools or 8th graders into the high schools to try and make it work.

There were forces outside of the district’s control that made these options even more difficult. In 2013, the State Legislature passed all-day kindergarten — which nearly doubled classroom space requirements at that grade level. And, finally, the economic recovery finally reached the new housing market, as building permits have surged again — evidenced by the many new home developments under construction across the district.

It was increasingly apparent that options like the “cram” or the “shuffle” were merely short-term in nature and disruptive in their impacts to learning and families — they would naturally involve larger class sizes, additional building transitions for students, and potentially multiple boundary changes for families.

Our Task Force recommended what we felt was the most prudent long-term option for our schools — building additional classroom space at the elementary school level. The leadership of our district has taken that recommendation and moved forward with a responsible plan, which you are being asked to vote on this November. As the parent of three children (two students at Jonathan Elementary and a two-year-old), I urge you Vote Yes on the two referendum questions.

The elementary school expansion details in the referendum consist of a new elementary school (slated to be built in Carver) and additions to Clover Ridge and Victoria Elementary Schools. The additional capacity will allow many positive things to happen for families in our district.

First, the additional capacity will prevent class sizes from increasing (and in the already overcrowded schools allow some relief from current levels). This will maintain or improve the current learning environments for our children. Eastern Carver County Schools consistently produce better than state average results on standardized tests, and the district’s three schools that are designated as Title I schools (based on the number of low-income families) were all recognized by the state in each of the last two years for their strong academic performance. The addition of classroom space at Clover Ridge will also allow kindergartners in that boundary area — who have been displaced to the Kindergarten Center by overcrowding — to return to the school.

Second, we will be able to provide additional stability for families in our district. In the 12 years my family has lived in Chaska, our neighborhood has been assigned to three different elementary schools because of the rapid growth in our area. Without additional classroom space, district officials will be forced to constantly reshuffle boundaries in order to try and prevent the western schools from becoming too overcrowded. While no boundary lines are ever permanent, building capacity today will lessen the frequency of these changes and the number of students impacted.

Finally, La Academia and the Family Learning Center will have permanent homes that are suitable for them on a long-term basis. Today, La Academia serves kindergarten through fourth grade at the Kindergarten Center — which lacks a proper kitchen and a full gymnasium. With additional elementary school classroom space, we will be able to move La Academia to one of the existing elementary schools and relocate the Family Learning Center out of Chaska High School to the Kindergarten Center.

The improvements in the referendum are vital to continued success of the students in Eastern Carver County Schools. I urge you to find out more at 2015vote.org or itmatters112.com and to Vote Yes on November 3!

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