School District No. 834
Frederic W. Knaak, Holstad & Knaak, PLC, St. Paul,
Minnesota (for relator)
G. Mikhail, Elizabeth Brodeen-Kuo, Kennedy & Graven,
Chartered, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Stauber,
Judge; and Rodenberg, Judge.
school board does not violate the public-hearing requirement
of Minn. Stat. § 123B.51, subd. 5 (2016), when it
imposes reasonable time restrictions on parties speaking at a
of certiorari, relator 834 VOICE challenges the decision of
the school board (the Board) of respondent Independent School
District No. 834 (ISD 834), Stillwater, Minnesota, to close
the Marine, Withrow, and Oak Park elementary schools. Relator
challenges the speaking-time limits and other procedural
rules concerning the school-closing hearing, and also argues
that the Board's finding that closing the schools is
necessary and practicable is not supported by substantial
evidence. We affirm.
in 2012, the respondent school district began developing a
strategic plan called Bridge to Excellence. District leaders
reviewed demographic trends and projections, and eventually
reviewed a 2014 report by demographer Hazel Reinhardt.
Reinhardt's report attempted to project future enrollment
in the district schools. She predicted that, under the
"cohort survival method" of projecting, enrollment
would either decline or rise only slightly over ten years.
Under the "housing unit method" of projecting,
there would be "some enrollment growth." As part of
a long-range facilities plan that included building a new
school in the southern part of the school district, district
voters approved a levy in 2013 and a bond measure in 2015.
The Board urged voters to approve the 2015 bond measure. In
its proposal to the Minnesota Department of Education, the
Board cited the Reinhardt report's projection of
"stable to moderate growth in student enrollment over
the next 5 years, but with some geographic shifting in
student population location."
school-district superintendent was hired in July 2015, after
the May 2015 vote approving the bond measure. At a December
17, 2015 board meeting, the new superintendent presented a
new strategic plan for the Board's consideration,
entitled "Building Opportunities to Learn and
Discover" (BOLD). One of the BOLD proposals was closing
three of the district's elementary schools and
consolidating students into the remaining schools. The
superintendent stated that the school closures are necessary
because school enrollment is declining, the district is
operating schools below capacity, students are having
inequitable educational experiences, and budgetary
constraints are creating instability in student programming.
District staff supported these statements with data from the
Reinhardt report, a Metropolitan Council report, a capacity
study conducted in 2014, and other data.
BOLD proposal generated vigorous community opposition. A
survey commissioned by the Board revealed that a majority of
residents and parents of children attending schools in ISD
834 opposed BOLD. Nonetheless, the Board proceeded with a
series of "learning sessions" and "listening
sessions" where district staff explained the reasoning
behind the BOLD proposal. Community input was received.
Following these sessions, and desirous of making a decision
concerning the proposed school closings, the Board held a
final public hearing under Minn. Stat. § 123B.51, subd.
5, on March 3, 2016. At that hearing, district staff,
including the superintendent, presented the BOLD proposal and
took questions from the Board. The Board then took public
testimony, limiting each speaker to three minutes. Forty-four
people who had signed up to speak, plus one additional person
who had not signed up, testified at the hearing. The Board
also accepted into the record a 305-page report from
this several-hour public hearing, the Board voted 5-2 to
adopt a resolution closing the three elementary schools. The
resolution included findings of fact supporting the school
closures, which mirrored the reasons originally given by the
superintendent when she introduced the BOLD proposal. The
resolution also identified reasons for the closure of those
specific elementary schools, and explained why other
elementary schools in the district were not closed. This
certiorari appeal followed.
the March 3, 2016 hearing fulfill the statutory requirements
of Minn. Stat. § 123B.51, subd. 5, concerning a
the Board's decision to close the Marine, Withrow, and
Oak Park elementary schools ...