District unveils plan for increased enrollment

Minneapolis Public Schools may deal with projected district enrollment increases over the next four years by reopening two closed schools in 2012 and investing in expansions at two other schools.

The district’s “near-term enrollment strategies” for the 2012–2013 school year also included shifting the grade configurations of a handful of schools across the district, as well as some of the pathways students follow from elementary to middle to high school. A draft of the proposed changes was posted Wednesday on the district website.

Just two years ago the School Board approved Changing School Options, an attempt to rein-in transportation costs and deal with declining enrollment that closed four school sites, shuffled pathways and routed more students to community schools in their neighborhoods. But a very different enrollment picture began to emerge last spring, and now a “baby boomlet” coupled with higher retention rates may force the district to undo some of the changes that took effect just this fall.

The proposal includes some significant changes for Southwest, where the district’s enrollment challenges are most acute.

The district proposes to convert the K–8 Ramsey International Fine Arts Center, 1 W. 49th St., into a new 6–8 Ramsey Middle School. The change would require reopening the closed Folwell Middle School building, 3611 20th Ave. S., and moving the Ramsey fine arts program to Folwell.

Students from Lyndale and Burroughs community schools would have a pathway to the new Ramsey Middle School and then on to either Southwest or Washburn high school based on their home address.

The change would increase the K–8 capacity in the district transportation zones 2 and 3, which cover South and Southwest neighborhoods, respectively, by about 900 students.

The district also proposes to convert Jefferson Community School, 1200 W. 26th St., from its current K–8 configuration to a K–5 school with a pathway to Anthony Middle School and then on to Southwest. Jefferson currently has about 160 middle grades students who would be directly impacted by the change.

The other change for the Southwest portion of the district is a planned expansion of Lake Harriet Community School’s lower campus, 4030 Chowen Ave. S., that would add about 125 seats to the crowded dual-campus K–8 school. The lower campus has relied on two portable classrooms for additional space for about 20 years, far longer than was intended for the temporary structures.

The School Board set the Lake Harriet expansion in motion Sept. 27 when it voted to begin the process of selecting an architect for the addition.

Mark Bollinger, executive director of facilities, said the district completed an “internal feasibility study” on the Lake Harriet project, and anticipated the expansion would cost about $11 million. Staff previously estimated the addition would open in 2014 at the earliest.

A discussion of the proposal and the district’s enrollment challenges was on the agenda for the Area C/Zone 3 Parent Advisory Council meeting 6:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at Lake Harriet Community School’s upper campus, 4912 Vincent. Ave. S.