How is MPS doing, really?
By objective measures of enrollment, district finances, students’ academic assessments, and staffing levels Minneapolis Public Schools continues to face multiple challenges. Enrollment has declined 18% in the past five years. The district is facing a structural budget deficit of over $100 million starting in the 2024-25 school year, when federal pandemic relief funds expire. The budget deficit is structural because it is expected to persist unless changes are made to the district’s operations.
How are students doing?
Based on the district’s most recent student assessments, district students are more likely to be below grade-level proficiency in math and reading than their pre-pandemic peers. There is a persistent fifty percentage point gap in proficiency rates between BIPOC students and white students in the district in both reading and math. High vacancy rates, particularly in classroom teaching and support roles, disproportionately impact students who qualify for special education services, and schools serving predominantly low-income students and BIPOC students. The most recent update to the board on high school students was in November 2022. That data showed little change in the percentage of students on track for graduation, overall, but a significant decline in the number of 9th graders who are on track for graduation.
What’s going on with MPS leadership? When will there be a new superintendent?
There has been significant turnover in district leadership in the past year. The school board includes seven of nine members in their first terms and the district is being led by an interim superintendent. Within district administration,turnover has led to new leaders in Human Resources, Operations, the Budget Director and all four Associate Superintendents. The General Counsel is leaving at the end of June.
In January, the current board voted to delay the search for a new superintendent, and, in March, voted to renew the contract for Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox until June 2024. The board can terminate the new contract if it hires a permanent replacement before then.
When will things settle down?
The district has faced a series of internal disruptions in recent years. First, the board and administration chose an extended period of online learning in 2020-2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also implemented the changes to students placement from the Comprehensive District Design in 2021-22. And district educators’ chose to strike for three weeks in 2021-22, leading to an extended school year to meet state minimum hours and days of instruction. All of these led to disruptions to the typical services district families experience.
The internal challenges have been accompanied by external challenges facing district students and staff including the COVID-19 pandemic, the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd, rising housing costs, inflation and higher interest rates.
The school board is now beginning conversations about “school transformation,” its euphemism for school closures and consolidations. This is expected to be the topic of the next Committee of the Whole meeting on April 25.
What about the district’s finances? What’s the outlook, and will new funds from the state help?
The district has faced higher costs for staff, services and materials in recent years. Rising interest rates have made it more expensive for the district to issue bonds to pay for maintenance and capital improvements. And, in the face of declining enrollment, the district has chosen to postpone any changes to the size of its operations, using one-time federal pandemic aid to pay to maintain its existing operations.
Despite early optimism that a DFL trifecta and a historic $18 billion surplus might finally bring school district’s the ongoing funding they need, particularly for special education and English Learner services, the additional $30 million Minneapolis Public Schools is expected to receive is unlikely to keep the district out of statutory operating debt. Statutory operating debt is the closest thing under Minnesota law to bankruptcy for school districts.
In the 2023-24 school year, the district is proposing to use $132 million in one-time funds to cover its operating expenses. Without large, ongoing increases to funding, the district will have to make significant budget cuts in order to balance the budget in coming years.
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