Woodbury family files lawsuit against District 833
A Woodbury family frustrated by the edicts of a District 833 school boundary decision are taking a stand in court.
Kendra and Tim Goertzen have filed a lawsuit with the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Feb. 17 over issues stemming from the school boundary decision District 833's school board made in April 2008.
"Filing a lawsuit was the last thing we wanted to do, but we couldn't get them to listen to reason," Kendra Goertzen said.
The Goertzens live in the Wedgewood Point neighborhood of Woodbury, a little over a mile from Middleton Elementary. With the new school boundaries their children will be relocated to Bailey Elementary, which is roughly three miles away.
Goertzen feels her neighborhood was wrongfully divided because Prestwick Golf Club runs through the center of the area. In her opinion, it was used as a geographic divider, thus separating her from her neighbors up the street.
"Our neighborhood was split in half," she said. "And children should be attending the local school."
After the board decision was made, Goertzen went through the necessary steps to file an appeal so that the plan would be amended to redirect some 20 children back to Middleton.
"I think for children's development, it's important to go to a school close to home, that it's important to have continuity, security and stability," she said. "That's why we bought our house on Wedgewood Point, it's so close in proximity to Middleton Elementary and Lake Junior High. Never in our wildest dreams did we ever think our children would not attend those two schools."
Goertzen's appeal was denied by the district because it did not meet the five requirements, said Mark Porter, District 833' incoming superintendent and current assistant superintendent for Human Resources and Legal Services.
The criteria for a school boundary adjustment to be approved includes: the proposed adjustment does not require another neighborhood to be moved, the proposed adjustment is consistent with the objectives and guiding principles, the enrollment projections for the school receiving the additional students does not exceed 95 percent of it's maximum capacity, the neighborhood requesting the adjustment can demonstrate that 75 percent of the households affected support the change and the adjustment provides a more logical or natural boundary between schools.
"The fact that we had a very limited number of appeals in the end was really quite encouraging. I think it told us that most people, while perhaps not necessarily thrilled with the assignment that had made, were accepting of the outcome," Porter said. "Unfortunately that does not apply to all people."
"We would not be able to find an attendance boundary that is 100 percent satisfactory to everyone that is participating," he added. "We knew this was going to be challenging, we knew it was going to be change."
Goertzen was informed by letter from the district that her appeal had been denied because of space utilization.
"I fail to see how that's appropriate when we're talking about 20 to 26 children," she said. "The school has held over 900 students."
Goertzen said an additional reason she was frustrated with the appeals process was that it was handled by Dave Bernhardson, who drafted the boundary plans, because she and her neighbors felt that the appeal process wasn't handled in an unbiased fashion.
"He was being asked to critique his own plan," she said.
Goertzen said filing a lawsuit was her only option because she was continually being ignored by the district.
"We're very frustrated by the tactics the district has chosen to use, the strong-arming, the refusal to listen, the stonewalling," she said. "They're supposed to be working for the children of this district."
Even though the Goertzens are the only names on the lawsuit, they are not alone in this frustration.
"I did not have enough time and energy to get my neighbors onboard," she said.
Goertzen and her neighbors plan to put public pressure on the district to amend their decision in the form of an online petition, letters and attendance at the next meeting of the school board.
"We're gonna show the board that this was a ridiculous decision and it was unreasonable," she said.
Porter said the district will abide by its boundary decision and he believes that a fair decision was reached.
"I really think we need to stand firmly behind an outstanding process and decision that both the community and the board participated in," he said. "I would say the process was extremely fair and balanced to all affected neighborhood groupings."
Even though Goertzen and the district are on opposite sides of this issue, they both hope that a compromise can be reached.
"With any kind of dispute, you like to believe that there's some sort of compromise," Porter said.
Goertzen said unless the boundaries are amended, she will be looking at private school for her children.
"I'm definitely afraid of retribution, I've already been warned that there has been some negative things said about my husband and I," she said. "I am frightened but you have to stand up for what's right."
Porter said the district is not in the business of going out to get anyone.
"There is nothing to fear," he said. "We are here to serve the best interests of all students and families, and we will continue to do nothing but that."
To view Goertzen's online petition, visit: http://petitionspot.com/petitions/w43tomiddleton