The Minneapolis Public Schools board of education received its first presentation on department budgets for next school year at the April 11 regular business meeting. As part of the priority-based budgeting process– a new process for the district this year– department leaders requested $409 million in funding for department budgets, but $32 million in requests were not funded. Budget Director Thom Roethke said the majority of the unfunded requests were made by the academics department. 

Even with some requests unfunded, Roethke said the district will run a “structural” budget deficit which will require the district to use some of its assigned fund balance to cover the cost of district operations next year. This is different from the unassigned fund balance that the district expects to nearly deplete in the 2024-25 school year, when one-time federal COVID funds will no longer be available to close the gap between the district’s expenses and its revenue. A structural budget deficit is when expenses are greater than revenue, and that gap is expected to continue without changes to lower expenses, increase revenue or both. 

The district is allocating around $10 million more than requested to special education in order for the department to meet its regulatory compliance obligations. The district estimates it will need to spend $120 million on special education services to meet its obligations under “maintenance of effort.” Maintenance of effort is a federal requirement that local school districts cannot reduce their spending on special education services year over year, with limited exceptions. It is a safeguard for students to prevent school districts from cutting special education services as a cost-saving measure. 

Minneapolis Schools Voices has asked the district for additional details about department budgets that were not shared with the board last night. These details include how much is being allocated to each department and when the district will release the department allocation spreadsheet which shows which programs are being funded in each department, along with the source of funds to cover those costs. (Here is a link to that information for the current school year.)

Although details are scant on what is being funded, the district did include a list of projects that were not funded. Among the unfunded projects are interventionists for middle school math and secondary literacy. According to Executive Director Sarah Hunter, these services will be provided by the intervention triads instead

A request to expand instrumental music instruction to middle school would have cost $1 million, but it will not be funded for next year. Another request was made, but denied, to add associate educator support for some telescope math students, which would have also cost around $1 million. Telescope math is the district program that covers three years of math standards in two years for students in grades 4-8 who meet certain qualifications. In some schools, enough students qualify for this program that the class is taught separately by a teacher at the school. For other schools primarily outside of the southwest quadrant of the district, the students take the class online. 

Contract Alternative Program Contract Renewal

Senior Officer of Schools Shawn Harris-Berry and Executive Director Opal Ehalt shared information about the district’s contract alternative programs, which are alternative school programs provided by nonprofit partners for students who have faced challenges in traditional district schools. There are currently eight contract alternative programs and all but two serve high school students. The majority of students enrolled in the schools are 17-21 years old, and 47% of the students are Black. A quarter of the students are open enrolled from outside of the district. 

The contracts with the nonprofit partners for these schools have typically lasted for three years, and are up for renewal in June of this year. Ehalt told the board they are working on making changes to the contract language to incorporate accountability metrics aligned with the district’s strategic plan. 

Magnet School Pathways

Deputy Senior Officer of Academics Maria Rollinger and Executive Director Muhidin Warfa presented additional information to the board about possible changes to magnet school pathways and other modifications to the district’s magnet programs. Designated magnet pathways create enrollment stability for students and magnet programs by automatically enrolling students when they transition between elementary and middle school. For example, a fifth grade student in the Spanish dual immersion program at Emerson is currently automatically enrolled at Anderson, the Spanish immersion middle school, for sixth grade. Families can change the placement, but do not have to go through the placement lottery to stay in the magnet program for middle school.

As part of the Comprehensive District Design, the district made all magnet schools citywide programs, meaning any students living anywhere in the district can enroll into any magnet program and have district transportation. Currently, the district offers five magnet themes– Spanish dual immersion, STEM/STEAM, arts, global humanities and Montessori. Magnet schools receive an additional $200-400,000 each year compared to neighborhood schools to pay for additional programming, staff and professional development.

When schools were designated as magnets in May 2020, there were no formal pathways to extend the programs to the high school level. Informally, Roosevelt High School had been acting as a citywide program for Spanish immersion students before May 2020 because the school had a large Spanish-speaking community and space to accommodate additional students. FAIR had previously been an integration district high school for the arts. When it became a district high school, it began operating informally as an arts magnet high school.

At the same time the new magnet programs were developed, an allocation of funding was made to Heritage Academy for STEM programming. Heritage is one of two high schools that is part of the Somali Language Heritage Pathway program in MPS. The school community understood this to indicate it would be made a magnet pathway school for STEM/STEAM students at Sullivan and Franklin. But this designation was not formally made in May 2020 by the school board. Senior Officer Diop told the board that he was not aware of who made this allocation of funding to Heritage, or what source of the funding was used to pay for this allocation. The district has restored the funding, approximately $400,000, for next year.

There is currently no high school pathway, even informally, for students at Ella Baker in the global humanities magnet program, or for students in the STEM/STEAM programs at Sullivan and Franklin. Typically, Montessori programs operate with 4-6 grades grouped together, but Seward was designated as a K-5 elementary school under CDD. The school has asked to add back sixth grade.

Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox noted that adding sixth grade to Seward would require the addition of three or four full time teachers, which would cost an additional $300-400,000 next year. This would also reduce enrollment at the middle schools where these students would have attended. Andersen and Sanford would be the middle schools primarily impacted by this change.

The Spanish immersion program has proven so popular that there are students on the waitlist for all three elementary schools next year. The middle school program at Andersen is also at capacity. Because the schools are already full, newcomer families whose primary language is Spanish have not been able to enroll into these programs this year as they have arrived during the school year. Directors Joyner Emerick, Abdul Abdi and Adriana Cerrillo spoke about the need to add seats to these programs in order to accommodate more families seeking Spanish immersion programs.

Exchanges between district administrators and board members centered on two major questions. The first is what action, if any, does the board need to take related to magnet programs. And, second, whether or not any changes to magnet programs should be made separately from decisions about school consolidations and closures. There was no resolution of either issue. The board will continue its discussions at the April 25 Committee of the Whole meeting where the focus will be “school transformation,” the euphemism the board is using to refer to planning around school consolidations and closures.

Newcomer Students

Minneapolis Public Schools currently has 1,100 students that it designates as newcomers. These are students who have lived in the United States for less than one year, have had less than one year of formal school in English, and whose English language skills are assessed at a low level. Over half of these students speak Spanish as their home language, and many of these students have come to the United States from Ecuador, according to Executive Director Muhidin Warfa. In January and February, 423 newcomer students enrolled in MPS. 

The district is providing a range of services for newcomer students and families, which included a resource fair on Wednesday April 12 at Green Central. At the resource fair, families were connected with community partners, including legal and medical services. The district has hired additional ESL teachers, allocated additional English Learner staff to schools next year, and has established a newcomer team to coordinate support across departments in the district.

Public Comments

The public comment time was primarily divided between two groups. Members of the ESP chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers continued their request to extend a one-year Memorandum of Agreement that came out of negotiations to settle the educators’ strike last spring. That agreement utilized one-time federal COVID funds to pay for an additional five hours per week for any Special Education Associate who wanted the additional hours. The commenters were asking the board to extend the MOA for another year. The current contract expires on June 30, 2022, and negotiations for a new contact are expected to begin soon.

Another group of commenters was made up of Heritage Academy parents and students who continued their request for the district to designate the school as a magnet program, and make it the high school magnet pathway for students at the STEM/STEAM magnet schools at Franklin and Sullivan. 

The finance committee of the school board will meet on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Davis Center. Minneapolis Schools Voices is committed to covering these meetings because they are not streamed or recorded for the public. The full board will meet again Tuesday, April 25 at 6pm for a Committee of the Whole meeting. The topic will be “school transformation.” Committee of the Whole meetings are a time for board discussion and information sharing; they do not include a time for public comments.