On Sept. 28, residents dropped off a binder of petitions at the Hopkins school superintendent’s office from Edina property owners who want to leave the Hopkins school district. Because of vague state laws, it’s not clear what force of law—if any—those petitions have.
“In the statute itself, there’s a lack of a process,” said Superintendent John Schultz.
That lack of process has compelled Hopkins Public Schools leaders to devise a way for moving forward on a controversial school district realignment even as the specter of what the district will do looms over it and homeowners.
Rumors have circulated about a set percentage of residents who must sign petitions in order for the issue to advance. But Schultz said he isn’t aware of any percentage that would force the district to act or obligate it to study the proposal further.
About 97 percent of the Parkwood Knolls property owners have completed petitions for annexation for the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, according to Alan Koehler of Unite Edina 273.
"We chose to provide (the petitions) to Hopkins to provide the district with a chance to review them," Koehler said. "We've not filed them with Hennepin County at this point, as we thought we'd give Hopkins schools a chance to respond. But they're all compiled and ready to go."
State law has a method for property owners to petition county boards for school district realignment—a process that requires the affected district to sign off on the petition in order for it to move forward. But nothing spells out when school boards must consider petitions submitted to them—and nothing forces districts to act when property owners go that route.
This is not the first time Edina property owners in the Hopkins school district have raised the issue of realignment. For 15 years, these residents have tried unsuccessfully to petition to enter their “home” district.
Last legislative session, Edina Rep. Keith Downey (R-District 41A) and Sen. Geoff Michel (R-District 41) sponsored bills that would have allowed Edina residents to bypass school board approval and go straight to the County Board. When that bill failed, residents made their case to the Edina and Hopkins school boards.
But since current law requires the consent of both school districts, Hopkins has had a virtual veto on any changes.
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.
Parkwood Knolls property owners say they want to leave Hopkins because the schools are not in locations that serve the families’ educational needs. The district has never had a school in Edina in its 130 years and has closed the two schools closest to the neighborhood.
By contrast, Edina Public Schools operates five schools within two miles of the homes.
But even though the issue has been discussed, Schultz said the formal petitions make this time different than previous discussions—even if those petitions don’t technically force the district to act.
District officials are now going through the petitions, checking the petitioning properties against Hennepin County tax records and getting an idea of the exact area involved. Staff will then study the fiscal and enrollment ramifications of the proposal.
Those ramifications could be significant. Hopkins’ Legislative Action Coalition, which helps the School Board advocate for education-related legislation, estimated the district 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.
Schultz said he doesn’t know yet how the district will weigh the matter. He speculated that a School Board committee, a work session or a public hearing could be possibilities.
He hopes to have a process spelled out sometime this week.
“We are going to study this and give it a serious look,” he said. “We are going to follow a reasonable process.”
See the map above for a look at the areas petitioning to be moved from Hopkins Public Schools to Edina schools. The purple areas have petitioned to detach. The blue areas are within Edina's boundaries, but have not asked to leave Hopkins schools.