Dist. 16 addressing growing enrollment, buildings usage

Spring Lake Park District 16 will not lease space to address short-term needs for the next school year, nor will the Spanish Immersion program be moved to the high school in a space now used by Learning Alternatives Community School.

Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg reported the decisions in a master facilities and programming update at the Oct. 9 school board meeting.

“We’ve taken it off the table,” Ronneberg said about a design team that has been studying facilities-use options for a growing district with a projected increase in enrollment of 20 percent over the next decade. That translates to more than 6,100 students compared with the district’s current K-12 enrollment of about 5,300 students.

The growth is not the result of new students moving into the district. Rather, the growth is because of larger grade-level classes, notably the current kindergarten through third-graders moving their way through the system, Ronneberg said.

The district has been undergoing a study for about two years that started as a K-3 boundaries and programming study to address student needs. The idea behind the study is to balance a growing student population and to designate a space for the district’s Spanish Immersion program, also a growing program.

Additionally, the Lighthouse Program for gifted and talented students, which started mostly as a program for middle and high school students is experiencing an increase in enrollment because it now services elementary students.

A lack of space

Northpoint Elementary School, built in the northern part of the district in Blaine, opened its doors in 2008.

“We knew as we opened up a new school, we were going to have to make boundary changes in the next few years,” Ronneberg said.

In 2009-10 school year, the Spanish Immersion program was piloted with 70 kindergarten students and housed in two locations – at Northpoint and Woodcrest elementaries, in Blaine and Fridley, respectively. The program, now serving K-3 students, is currently housed in the south end of Westwood Intermediate School in Blaine. But because of a lack of space, this is the last year the program with a current enrollment of 280 students, will be at Westwood. The district is in the process of looking for a new space for the program.

Spanish Immersion was started with a goal of adding one grade level per year up to grade five. Grades four and five are planned to be added in the next two years.

The district’s Spanish Immersion program has delayed boundaries changes, according to Ronneberg.

“If we didn’t have Spanish Immersion, we would have had to make boundary changes at least two years ago – maybe three years ago – because Northpoint wouldn’t have had room,” he said.

To address the needs of a growing district, the district has hired the firms of Reinhardt Consulting and Wold Architects. The firms have conducted a comprehensive review of future enrollment projections and buildings usage. The district has been working with the firms for the past six to eight months in what has become a master facilities and programming study.

Why a review?

The facilities review was undertaken because the district is experiencing a steady growth in enrollment. Northpoint and Woodcrest Elementary schools are at capacity, while Park Terrace Elementary is under used with regard to enrollment. Westwood Intermediate and Middle schools are operating at capacity with a significant increase projected during the next five years, according to a district report.

Other reasons for the facilities review are: Early childhood program needs are increasing and demand is growing for all day, every-day kindergarten. The Spanish Immersion program continues to increase, while the Lighthouse Program is growing as well. And the district is growing more racially and socioeconomically diverse.

The district receives state compensatory revenue based on the number of students receiving free and reduced lunches. Some schools also receive Title I funding.

The district is restricted in what schools can use those resources, Ronneberg said in an interview.

“We want to be sure to be able to utilize those resources as flexibly as possible to be able to benefit as many kids as possible, rather than limiting it to one or two schools,” he said.

The design team will continue to study options through October. The board will hear the team’s recommendation for addressing needs in the short term in late October.

Information sessions for parents and community members are planned for November.

Final facilities and program modifications will be brought before the board for a vote in November and December.

The school board will hear a draft of a long-term facilities and programming plan in December. The plan is expected to be completed by spring 2013, according to the district.

For more information on the enrollment projections and facilities-usage studies, visit the district’s website at www.springlakeparkschools.org.

Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]