Hopkins rejects school district switch by Edina neighborhood

/ 20 December 2012 / eunice

Kelly Smith, Star Tribune, December 20, 2012 – An Edina neighborhood’s fight to leave the Hopkins School District was rejected Thursday night, raising the stakes in a two-year battle that erupted into questions about motives and disputes over the quality of schools.

In what could be a precedent-making decision, the Hopkins school board voted 7-0 to keep the Parkwood Knolls neighborhood, prompting unhappy residents to vow they will take their fight to the State Capitol.

“They didn’t really take any of our arguments into account,” Unite Edina 273 leader Alan Koehler said after the vote.

Residents of the neighborhood in the far northwest corner of Edina wanted a change in decades-old school boundary lines that would place their 467 homes in the Edina School District. But the Hopkins School District predicted the move would cost it an estimated $550,000 in property tax revenue each year, forcing city taxpayers to pay more.

“The financial impact would have been devastating,” Hopkins Superintendent John Schultz said after the meeting. “It’s a very complicated issue. We had to think about all the variables.”

If the Edina families reprise last year’s unsuccessful effort for state legislation that would allow neighborhoods to leave a school system without getting district approval, they will once again face firm opposition from the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) and the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

“This just starts a precedent … what would you be allowed to leave for? If you had better athletics? … It could just implode on the whole system,” said Grace Schwab Keliher of the MSBA. “It would hurt kids and Minnesota’s school system tremendously.”

Had Hopkins school board members approved the request Thursday, another Edina neighborhood, Presidential, just north of Parkwood Knolls, was going to ask to leave too, said resident Micki Lee, who has used the open enrollment option to send her children to Edina schools.

A rare move

Even if the Edina neighborhoods were allowed to detach from the Hopkins district, the residents would still need to petition for annexation by the Edina district. According to the state Education Department, it’s been more than two decades since a school district has had an annexation request.

To Jasmine Hoedeman, both steps are fights worth waging. She and her husband built their house in Parkwood Knolls in 2003 and knew Hopkins was closing the nearby Katherine Curren Elementary School. She didn’t want her son and daughter crossing busy highways to get to another Hopkins elementary, so she sent them to the Edina district via open enrollment.

“We’re just a bunch of neighbors who want to go to our neighborhood school,” she said.

Now, she said, a permanent boundary change is needed for other families on waiting lists to attend Edina.

“The open-enrollment option is no guarantee,” she said.

In Edina, 12 percent to 15 percent of students each year are from outside the district. Last year, an unexpected influx of 200 students prompted the district to cut off open enrollment at most schools.

Group’s motive questioned

Hopkins resident Matt McNeil counters that Edina residents knew they were in the Hopkins School District when they bought their houses. He fears allowing them to leave would raise his property taxes, cut teachers and set a precedent for picking what neighborhoods are in districts.

“If we allow this, we’re handing a tremendous amount of power to the wealthiest parts of any school district,” he said.

Many houses in the Parkwood Knolls area are valued at $1 million or more, with an average market value of $823,501 for a single-family house. Citywide in Edina, it’s about $396,000; in Hopkins, $246,000.

McNeil, an Edina High School graduate whose three children attend a Hopkins elementary school, also criticized Unite Edina for excluding apartments and affordable housing nearby. “It’s not about uniting Edina, it’s about uniting certain parts of Edina,” he said.

McNeil said the push to leave Hopkins also seems to stem from a larger issue: inaccurate views of the two districts, despite the fact that Edina and Hopkins are high-performing districts, with the high schools ranked among the top 15 in Minnesota in this year’s U.S. News and World Report. Hopkins was rated No. 14; Edina No. 2.

“The step down from Edina to a Hopkins [school] is perceived,” he said. “It’s not that different.”