Minnesota district will close 3 elementary schools

Minnesota district will close 3 elementary schools

Despite vocal objections from community members, the Stillwater Area (Minn.) board approves a plan to shutter 3 elementary campuses.

The Stillwater (Minn.) school board has voted to close three of its elementary schools.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that board members, in a 5-2 decision, approved a plan dubbed Building Opportunities to Learn and Discover (BOLD) that will shift many of the district's 8,300 students to new schools by 2017 to accommodate enrollment growth to the south.

At a lengthy board meeting that preceded the vote, a few people spoke in favor of BOLD, but many others criticized what they said was the district's lack of communication and failure to understand the importance of neighborhood schools.

Two of the schools set to close — Marine Elementary in Marine on St. Croix and Withrow Elementary in Hugo — are the district's smallest. They're also near capacity. Both have received awards for academic excellence. The third school is Oak Park Elementary in Stillwater.

Superintendent Denise Pontrelli, who put forth the BOLD plan, said closing schools was a difficult decision.

"What we’ve learned through this process is that we have a very passionate and engaged community," Pontrelli said in a statement on the district's web site. "Our parents, community members, and staff care deeply about their schools and their students. This conversation has brought people together from across our district, and revealed challenges and disparities in our schools that for many had not been seen before....We all have a common goal—to provide the very best learning opportunities for our students. While we’ve had some disagreement on how to get there, it is our hope that we can move forward together."

Supporters of the closing plan say it will make class sizes more uniform and invest money in students and teachers rather than buildings.

The plan also calls for building an elementary school in Woodbury and expanding Stillwater Area High School so that ninth-graders can be moved there from middle schools. Closing the three schools will save about $1.26 million annually, the district says.

A group of parents and taxpayers has hired a lawyer is is considering legal action to stop BOLD.

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