The is fighting a bill that would allow neighborhoods to petition to leave the district without the school board’s consent.
The bill paves the way for areas like the portion of Edina in Hopkins Public Schools boundaries to start the process toward withdrawing from the district—taking students in those neighborhoods out of the district, along with the money that follows them.
Hopkins’ Legislative Action Coalition, which helps the School Board advocate for education-related legislation, estimates Hopkins Public Schools would lose at least $250,000 of referendum potential if the district’s portion of Edina went to Edina Public Schools. It would lose an additional $100,000 due to other students in that area becoming Edina students.
“When a neighborhood leaves it impacts those in the neighborhood because their children must either switch schools or parents must open enroll their children and provide transportation to the previous school every day,” the coalition stated in a post on the district’s website. “If a neighborhood leaves a school district, they are literally footing their tax bill to the remaining residents of the district because of loss of student population and tax base. Finally, the school district that is receiving the neighborhood is impacted because they must address a sudden influx of new students.”
The House passed the bill Thursday on a 73-57 vote. It will now go before the Senate Education Committee. (Debate on the issue starts at the 1:29:24 mark in the video above.)
The bill arose from disagreements over the northwest portion of Edina, which sits within the Hopkins school district. The area’s 400 homes are within 10 blocks from two Edina schools, said Edina Rep. Keith Downey (R-District 41A), the bill’s sponsor in the House. But those students are bused across Highway 169 and Excelsior Boulevard to a more distant elementary and junior high.
For 15 years, these residents have tried unsuccessfully to petition to enter their “home” district. But since current law requires the consent of both school districts, Hopkins has had a virtual veto on any changes.
“This is just about making the process a little lighter on them—allowing them to put their petition forward, to negotiate the issue at the County Board level and with the annexing district and the detaching district,” Downey said.
Bill supporters noted that a successful petition would not automatically redraw district boundaries. It would just allow them to have their voice heard and start the long process toward changing districts.
“This is a bill that smells a heck of a lot like freedom. This is empowering our parents in this school district to petition their government to find a right place for their kids to go to school,” said Belle Plaine Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-District 25B). “This is about the kids. It’s not about the Hopkins School district, and it’s really not about the Edina school district. It’s about the kids and where their family wants them to attend school.”
Opponents counter that open enrollment already empowers those families to choose where their children go to school. This proposal, on the other hand, threatens to throw off the balance of established district boundaries.
“The point is this could really set in motion a bad situation where you have districts actively—or maybe indirectly even—trying to raid one another’s tax bases here, and you could really, truly pit black against white and rich against poor in ways that could be really, really ugly,” said Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-District 44A), who represents portions of the Hopkins school district.
During Thursday’s discussion, representatives frequently referred to students’ “home districts”—as in the district that carries the same name as the city where they live. But even though districts are typically named after one of the cities they serve, they are separate local government entities, legally distinct from those cities.
Hopkins Public Schools, for example, covers all of Hopkins, most of Minnetonka, half of Golden Valley and parts of Eden Prairie, Edina, Plymouth and St. Louis Park.
The bill wouldn’t free all of those areas to leave. Neighborhoods could only petition without the school board’s consent if they don’t have a school building from their current district in their city. Hopkins, Golden Valley and Minnetonka all have Hopkins Public Schools buildings within their boundaries.
Yet the Legislative Action Coalition worries it would set a precedent for other neighborhoods in the district—including those in St. Louis Park, Plymouth and Eden Prairie.
And Hopkins Public Schools might not be the only district affected. Crystal Rep. Lyndon Carlson Sr. (DFL-District 45B) pointed out that the Southdale area could choose to leave the Richfield school district—which would take away a lucrative portion of Richfield’s tax base.
“The point I’m trying to make is this opens up a Pandora’s box in terms of the alignment of school districts,” Carlson said. “And once this happens you could have all kinds of issues that impact on the local property tax base, on student enrollment.”