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OPS Board OKs new elementary boundaries

school boundaries, owatonna, 2024
Kay Fate, Staff Writer

In towns like Owatonna, growth in population often results in new housing developments as the inventory for incoming families dwindles.

The growth is good – beneficial to things like the tax base – but it brings its own set of issues.

In Owatonna, with a school district that has pledged to provide neighborhood elementary schools, that typically means uneven growth at those schools, as new neighborhoods form.

The solution is to redraw the boundaries that dictate where students attend school, addressing the imbalance and other space limitations in the four local schools.

“Boundary change is an emotional topic,” Superintendent Jeff Elstad said earlier this month. “I fully expect there to be feedback from folks who aren’t happy with the decision, but if all we do is say, ‘Oh, you’re right. We’re going to change that,’ then you’ve just defeated the entire process.

“What’s convenient for someone now will be inconvenient for someone else,” he said.

The goal is to be clear about the “why,” Elstad said, “with a transparent process to land on what we believe to be the best possible solution to meet the whys.”

The design team worked to create a better balance in current capacity and future capacity requirements, with as little impact as possible to students.

Members of the Owatonna School Board approved the new elementary school boundaries at their meeting last week.

The final plan affects about 230 children in kindergarten through grade four; there is a nearly 200-student difference between Lincoln and Wilson schools this year.

The team, which met several times, was made up of representatives from early childhood, elementary, community education, enrollment, student information, special education, facilities, Owatonna Bus Company, communications, and district administration.

There were “many, many iterations to land where we have,” Elstad said. “We had to utilize our facilities in a better way and find a little room in each building for future growth, because we continue to outperform our expected enrollment – which is a great problem to have.”

Because of that pledge to have neighborhood schools, the boundaries are revisited every six or seven years, “which if you think about it, is about the lifetime of an elementary school career,” he said.

A north-south corridor planned by the city and county will likely extend population growth to the east; there is also a proposed project near the water park.

The approved plan “will be the next best idea in 2024, and then probably in about 2030 or so, the district is going to be looking at boundary adjustments again,” Elstad said.

“What I can share with you is, I believe that will be the job for the next superintendent,” he laughed.

The boundaries will start with the 2024-25 school year.


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