Hopkins committee tells Unite Edina 273 to consider other options

A Hopkins School Board committee questioned the process and the motivation of Unite Edina 273 in detaching from the school district during a meeting fraught with tension and outbursts from the audience.

Unite Edina 273 Chair Alan Koehler explained to the Hopkins School Board’s Policy Monitoring Committee on Wednesday, Nov. 14, that the school district doesn’t have schools nearby the Parkwood Knolls neighborhood and the precedent set by school districts in the past has been to change district boundaries.

“There’s nothing that we’re doing that’s radical or sets a precedent,” Koehler said.

However, school board members and Unite Edina 273 members acknowledged that a detachment of this magnitude hasn’t been done before and the process hasn’t been tested in decades. They were in agreement that the state statute on detachment and annexation for school district boundaries was vague.

The committee questioned why the group hasn’t pursued changing the state’s open enrollment statute or requested the Edina School District build more facilities to accommodate open enrollment students.

Unite Edina 273’s attorney, Julie Perrus of Larkin Hoffman, said, “We are not here about state policy. We are here as landowners exercising the right to petition.”

The committee was also reminded several times during the meeting that Unite Edina 273 would like to resolve the issue at the school district level rather than have it dealt with by the Minnesota Legislature. Legislation passed in the state House last session to change the statute so property owners wouldn’t need to gain the approval of the detaching school district before annexing into a different district.

This was the second meeting between Unite Edina 273 and a Hopkins School Board committee. The first meeting in October focused on potential financial impacts. The Nov. 14 meeting focused on policy. The next step in the process is to schedule a Hopkins School Board work session to discuss the information they’ve received so far, Hopkins Supt. John Schultz said.

Of the 212 school-aged children in the neighborhood, 133 attend Edina schools through open enrollment and 70 attend parochial, prep, charter and magnet schools, according to Unite Edina 273 statistics. Of the nine students who attend Hopkins schools, three attend Hopkins High School, five are enrolled at the XinXing Chinese Immersion Academy, and one is enrolled at a Hopkins elementary school, but is expected to be moved to Edina. The parents of the 33 pre-kindergarten students have indicated they won’t be sending their children to Hopkins schools.

School Boardmember Warren Goodroad said, “We want the students in your neighborhood to go to our schools,” and School Boardmember Steve Adams said, “I always thought Parkwood Knolls enjoyed the best of both worlds – the low property taxes in Hopkins with an education in Edina.”

The questioning of Unite Edina 273 by the committee got off to a tense start when Adams asked about the incorporation of Unite Edina 273, the shareholders and the financial gain of the businesses located at the address of Unite Edina 273. He said he would be relieved of his concerns if Unite Edina 273 provided him with a list of shareholders and donors, and the articles of incorporation.

Koehler explained the incorporation of Unite Edina 273 was the option they chose when they created the group and they have four shareholders. Unite Edina 273’s address is his place of work and the other businesses located at the address aren’t connected to the group, with the exception of his supervisor who also lives in the Parkwood Knolls neighborhood, he said.

Questions from the school board members went so far as to imply that outside interest groups could be behind the push for detachment because so many property owners without children had signed petitions.

Boardmember Wendy Donovan said the board has a legitimate reason to question the group’s motivation because the board needs to understand why the group wants to detach. However, she was cut off by murmurings of incredulity and the yelling of “No!” coming from the audience after she said half the parcels in the neighborhood have yet to be developed. After the audience settled down, she concluded that if the reasons aren’t educational, the reasons aren’t of value to be considered by the Hopkins School Board.

Koehler, Perrus and Unite Edina 273’s lobbyist Jim Erickson reiterated the group’s reason to detach is educational several times during the meeting.

Koehler began his response to the questions on motivation by saying, “Your question is highly offensive.” He explained that they have 97 percent support from the neighborhood and 691 signatures from 449 properties, concluding, “What more powerful form of support would you like?”

Perrus told the committee its job was to discuss the reasons for detachment stated and not guess at other motivations, while Erickson said, “There’s no conspiracy here.”

Koehler also explained the history of the creation of the Hopkins school district, noting that neighborhoods voted to join to eventually come to what is today’s Hopkins School District. However, Boardmember Kris Newcomer pointed out that some were legal entities that came in through district consolidation.

Adams told Koehler that 96 percent of the Parkwood Knolls neighborhood approved joining the Harley Hopkins School District in 1952. To the noise of angry disbelief from the audience at Adams comment, Koehler said Adams was wrong and pulled out a 1953 aerial map of the area. “There was no one there,” he said. Erickson added that there were probably three farms in 1952 in the area where the neighborhood stands today.

Adams and Koehler later got into a heated back-and-forth disagreement about school proximity and open enrollment that began when Adams said the neighborhood was closer to a Hopkins elementary school than it was to an Edina elementary school. The audience made its disagreement with Adams’ statement known.

Adams said he doesn’t believe proximity to a school matters in the detachment issue. Koehler said proximity to the school their child attends is a “big deal” for parents.

Adams said, “There seems to be an emotional attachment to the Edina School District,” to which Koehler replied with applause from the audience, “Isn’t that important?”

They later ended up on the issue again when Koehler said, “You’re right, we have an emotional attachment. That’s what this is all about.” Adams replied, “As a policy, we can’t draw boundaries around emotion.”

When the issue of children in the same family not being able to attend the same Edina school through open enrollment, Adams said he believes Unite Edina 273 should be finding a remedy with the Edina School District and not through detachment from Hopkins.

“That’s Edina’s problem. Shame on them for not providing the classrooms,” Adams said. He later returned to the issue of Edina’s school capacity saying, “Changing the boundary is not going to solve Edina’s capacity issue. I think you’re appealing to the wrong body.”

Koehler explained that open enrollment into a school is granted through a random lottery system. It isn’t a district administration decision and can’t be blamed on school capacity. Newcomer said they would read up on the open enrollment statute to learn more about it.

Koehler also said to consider the principles of the school district, asking them to think about what students are taught and if school board members had to explain the situation to students.

“Would you be proud to say, 97 percent of the population came to us and we stopped them, good for us, we shut them down?”