MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Some parents in the Stillwater Area School District are trying to stop a proposal that would close three elementary schools.

The district is planning to shut down the schools beginning in 2017. Officials say the schools are no longer efficient to operate because of their low enrollment.

But parents have been very vocal against the proposal, and have even created a website hoping to stop it.

Lindsay Nelson and Krista Thomas each have children that attend Withrow Elementary School.

“We were devastated,” Nelson said.

Withrow, Marine and Oak Park elementary schools are all on the chopping block.

“Closing these schools really does not leave a lot of options for parents,” Thomas said.

The two women are among nearly 1,500 parents who have signed a petition to stop what is being called the BOLD proposal — Building Opportunities to Learn and Discover.

They believe taking hundreds of Stillwater students out of their current schools and moving them into larger schools — and larger classrooms — would have negative results.

“Lower standardized-test scores, lower academic performance, higher dropout rates, higher rates of school violence and bullying,” Nelson said.

Thomas says longer transportation times would also be unacceptable.

“Some students could be on the bus for an hour in the morning and an hour at night if they have to switch schools,” Thomas said. “When you are talking about kindergartners and first graders, that’s not providing a more sustainable environment for them.”

But the school district believes the proposal will benefit students in the long run.

“We wouldn’t have brought it forward unless we thought it was the best,” Superintendent Denise Pontrelli said.

While parents say they learned of the proposal recently, Pontrelli says it has been a part of district conversation for 20 years.

Pontrelli says the district spent several months studying what would be best for all Stillwater schools, and they have received their own support from parents.

She says Marine and Withrow are rare in that they are two of the smallest schools in the Twin Cities. Both have enrollment under 200 students.

“Smaller schools are awesome opportunities for our kids to learn and grow, but they’re also very rare,” Pontrelli said. “And part of why they’re very rare is because they’re not very efficient to operate.”

She says growth in the south half of the district is another reason for closing the schools.

But Nelson said she thought a $97-million bond that taxpayers approved last year would help keep the schools open.

“We feel misled,” Nelson said. “We feel kind of slighted by this.”

Pontrelli says the bond money that was passed will help with some student relocation; including moving sixth graders to a middle school model, ninth graders to high school and building a new elementary school in the southern part of the district.

There will be a community meeting on the proposal Thursday evening at city hall, followed by public hearings later this month.

A final vote could take place on Feb. 11.

John Lauritsen

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