School board approves boundary shift between elementary schools

Published 9:22 pm Monday, May 6, 2019

With a unanimous vote at Monday’s school board meeting, some Sibley Elementary School students will be changing not only grade levels in the fall, but also schools themselves.

The Albert Lea school board approved a boundary shift that adjusts approximately 56 current Sibley students to Lakeview Elementary School, a response to overcrowding at Sibley. The adjustment will require all future kindergarteners, first, second and third graders living north of County Road 46 — excluding students from Clarks Grove — to attend Lakeview. The current boundary has these students attending Sibley.

Future fourth and fifth graders living within the adjusted boundary will stay at Sibley to finish out their elementary education. Parents with children who may be split between elementary schools due to the change will be allowed to move both their students to Lakeview should they so choose.

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The recommendation presented by Executive Director of Administrative Services Kathy Niebuhr and Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Mary Jo Dorman also included assigning future open enrolled students to a school where there is capacity and asking for proof of residents, via utility bills, from students whose address does not coincide with the boundaries of the schools they are attending.

Niebuhr, who spoke to the board, said the district proposed the shift on the district’s western edge because Lakeview has the capacity to absorb more students from future growth in areas, such as the Chapeau Heights and Indian Hills neighborhoods, on that edge.

School board member Jill Marin suggested the district ask for a utility bill from everyone in the district to avoid a potential stigma felt by a split family with two addresses. Niebuhr said following the meeting that the district previously addressed cases of questionable addresses on a one-by-one basis, and the district will look at the process of address verification further moving forward.

Prior to the meeting, school board members were provided with numbers requested at the district’s April 25 listening session at Lakeview, though the numbers were not presented at Monday’s meeting. Those numbers included current open enrollees — six in kindergarten through second grade — as well as District 241 students who live in Clarks Grove — 25 in kindergarten through second grade.

Albert Lea Area Schools Superintendent Mike Funk said the district did not recommend these students move for several reasons, including because the boundary shift approved Monday balances out the sections between Sibley and Lakeview. The district also has not had a discussion with Clarks Grove or open-enrolled families about a potential shift, he said.

School board members Angie Hanson and Marin said they felt the decision could have warranted more time. School board member Kim Nelson said the process felt “rushed,” while Marin called it “abrupt.”

“I think this is a situation that has been coming over the years,” she said. “… I believe that if we would have been able to discuss it maybe even last year or earlier this year, we could have maybe eased into the process a little bit and included more of the community in the process, and I think it’s just a missed, it’s a missed opportunity in public relations.”

Hanson said beginning the discussion sooner would have eased parent anxiety, specifically regarding which kindergarten roundup families should attend.

Still, all board members agreed on the outcome.

“It just seems to make geographical sense,” Marin said of the adjusted school boundaries.

Hanson said she knows redrawing boundaries can be a difficult thing for families.

“It looks like the solutions are the best possible in a tough situation,” she said.

Community member Belinda Krysan, who attended the school board meeting Monday night to find out what the school board would decide, said after the meeting she also felt the process was too quick. She attended the listening session April 25, and said she has two students — a kindergartener and first grader at Sibley — who will both be affected by the decision. She said the school board did not speak for the community in its vote.

“I’m disappointed,” Krysan said. “I understand Sibley is packed to capacity — I get that. But I’m really disappointed at the school board for not following through on the other options.”

School board member Neal Skaar said the question of who to move had no pleasant answer, but that the situation could be worse. He reflected on his own children, three of whom moved schools when the Hayward community school shut its doors.

“There are worse things that have to be done than are happening right now,” Skaar said.

Skaar also suggested the school district increase its attention to school populations and consider making regular micro-adjustments to avoid larger adjustments.

School board chairman Ken Petersen said the listening session showed him parents very involved in the school system. He hoped no matter the decision that parents would continue to stay involved in the school, he said.

The situation was difficult, Marin said, and she remembered how difficult it was for Clarks Grove families, whose students were moved from Lakeview to Sibley in 2013. However, she said parents may bring some comfort to their students along the way in the upcoming transition — though she acknowledged her own children did not go through a similar transition. She thanked parents for being involved with their students’ schools.

“Usually, kids will be OK if the parents are OK,” Marin said. “If the parents are looking at it in a way that, ‘You know, This is gonna be OK. We can cope. We can manage with it,’ the kids usually will feel the same way as well.’”

In other action:

• The school district entered a closed session for preliminary consideration of allegations against an employee. Funk identified the employee as Casey Kortz, a physical education teacher at Southwest Middle School, whom Funk said is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. Funk did not comment on the nature of the allegations.

• Funk presented the school board with data that showed an annual average insurance premium increase of 10.08 percent for the district’s insurance plans. The last three years have all had premium increases, Funk said. The primary reason for increased rates is an increase in utilization, Funk said.

“The trend is not going in the right direction, as far as I’m concerned,” Funk said.

The district offers insurance through Sourcewell, formerly known as NJPA.


About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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