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Parents sound off on possible Hudson elementary boundary changes

Community, committee and school board members and school district staff came together for a public meeting to discuss the Hudson elementary boundaries Tuesday, Sept. 25. Gretta Stark / RiverTown Multimedia.

Consultant company RSP Associates and the Hudson Elementary Attendance Boundary Committee gathered public input on two new draft options for attendance boundaries for the elementary schools during a public forum held Tuesday evening, Sept. 25.

This was the second public forum on the Hudson School District elementary boundary process. The first was held May 15. The two public forums were aimed at gathering community feedback for the boundary committee as it works to develop a recommendation or recommendations for the school board.

At Tuesday's meeting, RSP Associates CEO Robert Schwarz and education planner Craig Menozzi presented two plans to community members who had gathered at River Crest Elementary to share feedback. Presented in map format, the plans were known as Plan 1A and Plan 1B.

Plan 1A

In Plan 1A, the E.P. Rock boundary was reduced for lower student capacity and "longer duration of boundaries," according to Schwarz's presentation and an information packet distributed by RSP.

The only change to the Houlton Elementary boundary in this plan would be allowing students who live closer to North Hudson to attend North Hudson Elementary. Houlton Elementary is projected to be over capacity by 2022 or 2023 due to its location.

Hudson Prairie's boundary is increased in this plan to allow for more utilization and allowing the boundaries to last longer.

North Hudson Elementary's boundary was shifted to allow students who live closer to attend, but the attendance area was also made smaller. This was done to allow Willow River Elementary an increased population.

Willow River's boundary was increased in size.

River Crest Elementary boundary area was reduced so that River Crest would have fewer students and allow for future residential growth in its boundary area.

1B

In option 1B, the EP rock boundary was made smaller, to keep it at its ideal capacity and under maximum capacity. EP Rock's ideal capacity is 529 students, according to Schwartz's presentation and the information packet.

As in option 1A, the only change to the Houlton Elementary boundary in this plan would be allowing students who live closer to North Hudson to attend North Hudson.

Hudson Prairie boundary area was made larger so the school will be more fully utilized, according to the information packet.

North Hudson's boundary was increased in size to bring in more students.

Also as in option 1A, River Crest Elementary boundary was reduced so it would have fewer students and allow for future residential growth in its boundary area.

Willow River's boundary was made smaller. In this plan, fewer students would attend Willow River and district services could be moved into Willow River.

Willow River

Menozzi said the biggest difference between the two plans is that in 1A, Willow River is populated more and North Hudson has a smaller population. In 1B, North Hudson has more students and Willow River has less.

The idea, Menozzi said, is that if Willow River has fewer students, the extra space could be used for district services like instructional technology services, district duplicating (copying etc.), and other district services. This could reduce the space the district rents for those services.

Menozzi said there is a rumor going around that Willow River is going to be closed. He said that is not the case, though there would be fewer students if option 1B is selected.

Menozzi said that if option 1A is selected, he is not sure if the district would choose to put district services there.

Willow River's floor plan has multiple levels that make accessibility difficult, and limited parking.

The school board set guiding principles for the committee and RSP to use while developing a boundary plan. One of those included maximizing the use of the district's buildings for students and district-wide services.

Feedback

After a brief presentation, community members were given time to view maps of the plans and share feedback.

North Hudson Elementary mother Marcie Andrews said she understood the overall constraints and objectives the committee is trying to meet with the boundary plans.

"However, I question some of the moves and whether they're really going to accomplish what they want to," Andrews said.

She said she'd like to see some extra classroom space in buildings, instead of being consolidated into one building, being used as multipurpose spaces.

"So there may be extra classrooms, but that space could be repurposed to make it multi-purpose," she said.

Andrews said no one wants to see their students move to different schools.

"All of those schools are good schools, they're all great options," she said. "We just all get our hearts assigned to a school and it's hard to change."

Andrews said she appreciated the transparency of the process.

"Regardless of whether we're all happy with the outcome," she said, "the process really has been mostly transparent and inclusive, so people can be as involved as they want to."

Lindsay Dumond has two, soon to be three, students at River Crest. She said she did not like option 1A or 1B, but preferred an option shown to the committee in June.

Dumond liked how the options presented in June "kept a lot of neighborhoods intact."

Dumond said the process so far hasn't been great.

"A lot of people have donated a lot of time," she said, "And ... that time hasn't been taken into account, and the consultants haven't taken that information and used it in a constructive way."

Dumond said she hasn't been very involved in the process until the last couple months.

"But from what I see, it's a lot of break-off groups instead of one large group, so there's not a lot of chance for a large group to speak. It's more written in Post-it notes versus large-group discussion."

However, she was happy to see a lot of people at the meeting.

Kelly Lundquist did not like options 1A or 1B.

"I think they're both garbage," she said. "I don't think they need to pull population that's in neighborhoods like Heritage Greens and Coach Light and all these really populated elementary neighborhoods out of where they're currently at to make room for potential future neighborhoods that don't exist yet."

Lundquist, who lives in Heritage Greens, has children at River Crest. She'd like to see her neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods stay in the River Crest boundary area. She suggested keeping space at E.P. Rock for students in new development areas.

Lundquist thinks the process overall has been "kind of a joke."

"They came up with those two plans initially," she said. "And now there's these brand new ones presented this late in the game.

"I think they need to go back to the drawing board and get these kids back to where they belong," Lundquist said.

Nick Colianni has two students at Willow River, which he called a great school.

"I believe there is a lot of details with option 1B that need to be considered," he said. "And I would hope that more information about putting the administration into the building would be released before they make any decisions."

School board response

School Board Member Bob Baumann said he's pleased with the boundary-setting process so far.

"The goal was to be very transparent," he said. "The goal was to get an idea where we stand, get the opinions of an outside firm who does this — demographics and studies and bussing and class sizes — to really get a look at where we are and give us some advice on how to make it efficient for long-term."

Baumann also addressed the rumor that Willow River was to be closed, saying it was not true.

"We're very proud of that building," Baumann said. "And its service to our community. And as a board member, it has never come to me a question of will we close Willow. I would not be in support of that."

He said he believed the majority of people who came to Tuesday's event were concerned about Willow River, or how their neighborhoods would be affected. He said the last was a valid concern.

"That's why we're having this process," he said.

The board, Baumann said, has been getting regular updates from the committee on boundary-setting progress.

Baumann said about 80 percent of the emails and calls he receives from community members have been about "false rumors" and about 20 percent about valid concerns.

Baumann invites anyone who wishes to share feedback or concerns to contact a school board member. The board members' contact information can be found on the school board website.

What's next?

The school board has made no decision yet. The boundary committee will meet again on Oct. 23 and Nov. 27, and will present a recommendation or recommendations to the school board at its Dec. 10 regular meeting. The school board will vote on new attendance boundaries at its Jan.14, 2019 meeting.

Baumann said thus far, the board's role in the process, besides getting things rolling by creating the committee and hiring RSP, has been to set "guiding principles," to help guide the committee's decisions.

For more information on elementary boundaries, visit the school district's elementary boundary page.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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