Senate committee tables Edina-Hopkins school district boundary bill

/ 26 April 2012 / jennifer

T.W. Budig, ECM Publishers, April 26, 2012 –

With scant days left in the legislative session, the focus by Edina Parkwood Knolls residents to join the Edina School District may have shifted from the State Capitol back to the local school districts.

About 400 Parkwood Knolls families are seeking to have their neighborhood, currently part of the Hopkins district, annexed into the Edina district.

Alan Koehler, spokesman for the neighborhood group Unite Edina 273, in education committee argued it made no sense for the neighborhood to be in the Hopkins School District.

Edina schools were only five minutes away by car, while a Parkwood Knolls student over the course of their education in the Hopkins School District would need to be bused a distance equal to the distance to Vietnam, he explained.

School district boundaries affecting the neighborhood were drawn more than a hundred years ago and simply followed farmer fence lines, Koehler argued.

Morever, the Hopkins district schools close to the Parkwood Knolls’ neighborhood have closed, he said.

“There is a clear and logical argument that the designation of the school district serving our neighborhood needs to change,” said Koehler in a statement.

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, Senate author of legislation changing the annexation process — school districts that would lose a portion

of their district through annexation currently must agree to the process — explained the issue wasn’t the two school districts.

“These are great schools,” he said.

He’s not trying to pit one district against the other, Michel explained.

But a way should be found that allows the process to go ahead, he argued.

“They effectively have a veto,” said Michel of school districts unwilling to lose snippets of district.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, expressed sympathy.

“It defies logic,” she said of the patchwork of school district boundaries across the state.

Additionally, Olson, who like Michel is not seeking reelection, styled existing state law pertaining to school district annexation as reactionary. “It essentially protects the status quo,” she said.

In the House, a bill carried by Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, permitting the annexation process to begin with only the approval of the annexing school district, not the detachment district, passed in late March.

Hopkins Superintendent John Schultz and Director of Business Services John Toop explained to the committee that passage of Downey’s bill caught them off guard.

The Hopkins officials styled the potential loss of the Parkwood Knolls neighborhood and its $400 million tax base as financially wounding their district.

To be fair, Schultz argued, the annexation process has to consider the financial loss to school districts. Schultz indicated that he believed a local solution concerning Parkwood Knolls could be worked out between the two school districts.

So did Toop. “I believe we can come to an agreement,” he said.

Several senators on the committee — Olson included — said the annexation process is complicated by its school funding implications.

Other senators felt it was too late in the session to take up such a complex issue.

Sen. Al DeKruif, R-Madison Lake, explained that in Greater Minnesota school district consolidation has students living five miles from one school being bused 25 miles to another.

“I haven’t added up in my head how far it is to the moon,” DeKruif quipped, talking student distances traveled over time.

Minnesota School Boards Association official Grace Keliher styled Michel’s bill as bad legislation.

Do lawmakers really want to open up that bottle? she asked of making the the annexation process easier.

The committee by unanimous voice vote tabled Michel’s bill.

Michel insists he isn’t finished pushing his legislation. “No way,” he said.

He’ll be looking for “vehicle” bills to possibly amend the legislation onto, he explained. He believes the local school districts need some “encouragement” to bring them into active negotiations, Michel said.

Michel said it’s unfair to depict the work of Parkwood Knolls residents as trying to skirt the process. They’ve been at this for years, he said.

Olson, like Michel, explained that one of the first issues confronting her as a new legislator was a school district boundary dispute.