Growth on a Horizon of Great Change

Long range facility planning is in full swing by the ISD833 school district. The goal is to move toward one final plan by MARCH so they can gain approval by the school board in APRIL and begin organizing the sales pitch to voters with a bond referendum (the sale of bonds to raise construction funds). A special election would be held AUGUST 9th, 2022, which, if it passes, would put them on track to complete construction and boundary changes by 2025.

School Board Workshop February 3, 2022

Currently, in the month of February, the leadership team consolidated three “Working Options” down to two. Both options “A” and “B” now include the purchase of land for a 4th high school (140 acres, give or take). The two options are really no different from one another, other than the cost and time line to construct a high school. The current price tag to build a high school is $240,000,000 (that is 7 ZEROS, wow!), including land and construction. Little fun fact discussed at the workshop: In 2007, East Ridge cost $102 million. Oh my, what a difference! I also learned the current costs to maintain a high school is $14 million per year.

Is this a good time to be committing to such large building projects though? Maybe district citizens could use a year or two of tax breaks, not hikes. Maybe time to recoup financial losses from pandemic lock downs would be more beneficial than fancy new buildings. I understand the need to plan for future growth, and I also appreciate a district that is proactive and responsible about the future. I’m just not convinced that today is the day, during a time of such uncertainty.

Since 2018, when the district first began planning for 2040 growth, “the Covid Effect” has thrown the world upside down and inside out. The future is more unpredictable now than at any other time most can recall.

Assistant Superintendent Kristine Schaeffer, who leads the long range facility planning effort, says that despite the pandemic, city growth has sky rocketed. What she neglects to mention though, is that SOUTH WASHINGTON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT HAS NOT EXPERIENCED THE SAME GROWTH AS THE CITIES.

Image from SoWashCo “2025 Building Our Future”

The chart she shows projects a steady upward momentum in enrollment, but this is quite optimistic. If dissatisfaction in district covid-19 policy and partisan learning environments continue the way they have in the classroom, enrollment could very well stay level or take on a downward spiral. Education in the State of Minnesota could also see significant changes with this next election cycle and the prospect of choice and ESA’s a very real possibility in the near future.

Last weeks workshop in review

Quick summary of the District 833 SoWashCo February 3rd School Board Workshop.

The workshop began with a School Showcase of the three Spanish Immersion pathway principals, Cynthia Maldonado, Karin Lopez, and Sarah Sorenson-Wagner. They spoke of the work put into making the transition from Nuevas Fronteras Elementary to Woodbury Middle to Woodbury High School as easy as possible for the kids. It was nice to see the good working relationship they had with each other.

Cynthia Maldonado discussed their plan to move toward a “Dual Language Immersion” program, which surprised me because “Immersion” and “Dual Language” say two very different things. It appears to be an effort made in the name of equity, but I have emailed her requesting an explanation, which I am waiting on a reply. I also spoke in depth with an Immersion parent attending the workshop, and she expressed to me how difficult the high mitigation covid policies have been on her children, especially her second grader. Stay tuned for my interview with her coming soon.

The long-range facility planning team revealed their updated options listed above. Then the Education Foundation Director presented an update on the progress being made for a new Foundation which will tie in with SoWashCo CARES. They hope to focus on basic needs like food and clothing, learning opportunities like enrichment and financial aid, and community connections like outreach and staff recognition. It will be interesting to see how plans come together.

by JAiME for SCHOOLS February 7th 2022


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