Lake Harriet Parents Pushing For New Building
How officials deal with overcrowding could affect the district's reputation among parents.
Lake Harriet Community School has some problems—1,174, to be exact. That’s the number of students projected to attend the school in the fall of 2013. The school’s two campuses are collectively designed to only hold 1,050.
As everyone from school board members to parents will tell you, it’s a good problem to have. It means that people are moving to Linden Hills and Fulton—not cheap neighborhoods, by any stretch—to attend the school, or are choosing the school over its private-school competitors. Unlike most neighborhods in Southwest, July house prices in Fulton were up 15 percent from the same time last year.
But if the projections hold true, the school will need one to two extra classrooms per grade. Lake Harriet has another problem: Minneapolis Public Schools only has about $32 million to spend on building classroom space for Lake Harriet and and nine other schools flagged in a recent district study as overcrowded or soon to be. This money will just barely buy additions and modifications to the three most crowded of the nine, according to estimates administrators presented to the school board on Sept. 6.
Suggested solutions range from reorganizing schools’ enrollment boundaries to building additions at the crowded schools.
Working the phones, lobbying officials
Lake Harriet parents and the principal, Mary Ryncheck, began organizing this summer to plead their case to school board members and to the administration.
“We put together information for parents to call the school board,” said parent Caroline Cochran. “We also went door-to-door to gather petition signatures.”
They arranged tours for board members to see the lack of classroom and cafeteria space and the condition of 20-year-old “portable classrooms.” The lobbying paid off. At recent school board meetings, senior staff with the district have repeatedly characterized Lake Harriet’s capacity needs as “critical” and need immediate attention. Superintendent Bernadiea Johnson is due to present an official recommendation on addressing the crowding issues on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
Lake Harriet's case seems supported by crowding problems in other Southwest schools. If the district went with the cheapest option—shrinking the area of Southwest that the school would draw from—the families pushed out of Lake Harriet would likely send their children to other schools facing or dealing with their own crowding issues, creating a domino effect.
“We studied it, and we found that we’d have to move thousands of students to make room for 150” at Lake Harriet, Executive Director of Facilities Mark Bollinger said at a Sept. 6 board meeting.
Worry for the district’s future at work?
Failure to address the crowding issue at Lake Harriet, one parent fears, could cause families to leave the district altogether for charter schools, private schools, or the suburbs.
“If you, a new parent, are looking at 37 kids per class (at Lake Harriet), that’s going to push people to private schools,” said Gwen Spurgat, a Lake Harriet parent.
While Spurgat and Cochran insisted their effort was “not an attempt to say ‘we need this more,’” the new wave of families causing crowding at Lake Harriet have helped stabilize the district's enrollment, and thus its finances, in the last few years.