The district recently commissioned a study of all its facilities by the firm Wold Architects & Engineers. That study found excess capacity - enrollment probably won't increase significantly in the next decade, so the district can realistically close as many as two elementary and one middle schools.
Now comes the task of deciding just which of the district's 17 schools it will be. A final decision from the school board is expected in January.
"We have done analysis on a smaller scale in-house, but this study really does to me validify the fact that we have to right-size the district, and that means closing some schools," said school board member Patsy Green, in an interview.
At its peak, Robbinsdale schools had 28,000 students in the early 70's. This year, it has 12,349. The district last closed a facility, New Hope Elementary, in 2005-2006.
"We're hoping our commuity will hear what we're facing, and take into consideration the decisions we're facing," Green added. "And then we can have hte dialogue with them as to what are the upsides of this, what are the downsides, and be realistic with them."
Green says closing schools will save money on operating costs, a possible bonus given uncertain budget times for schools. The state is projecting a $5.2 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty has not ruled out cuts to education.
Superintendent Stan Mack says Robbinsdale's district budget already calls for $800,000 in cuts for facilities. He says closing schools, along with extra money from a recently-passed referendum, will allow the district to reduce class sizes and restore some after-school activities that were previously cut.
"We need to be realistic and look for new and different ways to ensure all our students receive the best possible education," noted Mack, in a statement. "We recognize, however, that closing schools and the ensuing boundary changes are always difficult for all involved."
The district will hold two open houses this week to discuss the results of the Wold facility study. They will be Tuesday at Plymouth Middle School (10011 36th Ave N.) and Thursday at Robbinsdale Middle School (3730 Toledo Ave N).