Minneapolis Public Schools released detailed budgets for its administrative departments about an hour before the school board’s finance committee on Tuesday. This was the second time the committee met to review the proposed budget for the 2024-25 school year.

The department budgets, detailed in 131 slides, were not discussed in detail at the meeting.

Board members discussed several programs and budget items that they wanted to see saved from cuts, including the fifth grade instrumental music program, student support services, and pre-kindergarten classrooms.

Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams emphasized that she wanted the board to present a total package of programs they wanted to preserve and how they would balance the budget to account for them.

As previously shared, the total operating budget for the school district includes a $110 million gap that the district will fill with a combination of cuts to school building staff, administrative department staff, and use of $55 million in one-time reserves.

Eventual budget cuts may be even larger. The proposed budget is based on the most recent public offers to the district’s unions, which included wage increases of 3% and 2% to the district’s teachers and paraprofessionals. If collective bargaining agreements cost more than those proposals, the district would need to make additional budget cuts. The district has not reached collective bargaining agreements with several unions, including the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

“I do want to acknowledge again the difficulty and pain that comes with a budget that requires such significant reductions,” Sayles-Adams said in her opening remarks.

“In particular, I want to thank those of you who have suggested potential alternatives and or solutions,” Sayles-Adams continued. “This is important because our situation requires us to make significant expense reductions, which means that if any particular recommended reduction would be funded, the resources to do so would need to be identified from an offsetting reduction elsewhere.” Sayles-Adams acknowledged the trade-offs were inherent in the budget process because the district’s revenues are limited by enrollment and State regulations.

Using fund balances in the budget

The assigned fund balance refers to the accumulated, unspent revenue from previous years, comparable to the district's savings or financial reserves. The assigned fund balance includes unspent funds that have been set aside for a particular purpose.

Ibrahima Diop, the district’s senior officer of finance and operations, emphasized the one-time nature of the use of assigned fund balance.

“The proposal includes using a substantial portion of the assigned fund balance in the [2025 fiscal year] budget as a bridge until we can increase revenue because we hope to pass a referendum tax levy referendum increase of $20 million and transform the district to be operationally and fiscally sustainable,” Diop said.

School board chair Colin Beachy asked whether the proposed increase to the technology levy, expected to be on the November ballot, was included in the proposed budget for next school year. Diop explained that it is not included in next year’s budget because, if approved by voters, the proposed levy increase would not provide the additional $20 million per year in funding until the 2025-26 school year.

“Because the use of fund balance is a one time bridge, changes must be made to be in effect for the 25-26 school year budget process,” Diop added.

Last October, then Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox told the board that any changes to the number of schools the district operates or the programs in schools would need to be decided by October 2024. No plans for making these changes have been shared with the public, yet.

Diop also emphasized the importance of using only assigned fund balance, not unassigned fund balance, when supplementing next year’s budget. Utilizing the unassigned fund balance to close the budget deficit would damage the district’s credit rating.

Reshaping the intervention triad program

Sarah Hunter, executive director of strategic initiatives, shared additional information about the district’s “intervention triad” program for next year, which was originally setup to help students catch up on learning loss that occurred during the COVID pandemic.

In a scaled-back version of the intervention triad program, the district will eliminate the 400 teacher and paraprofessional positions it added to schools during this school year, and create 45 new full-time equivalent intervention positions for next year.  

The district has budgeted $6.3 million of federal funding to provide a combination of teachers and associate educators at its Title I schools next year. This year’s intervention program was budgeted to cost $29 million. The district considers a school as Title I if 40% or more of students are eligible for free or reduced price meals under federal guidelines.

Each eligible school will be provided with at least one extra intervention staff person one day per week. The number of positions a school receives will depend on the number of students at the school who qualify for intervention based on academic assessments. Hunter said the number of students qualifying for intervention far exceeds the capacity of the intervention positions.

Hunter said that the district hopes that by having a smaller number of positions, it will be able to fill all of the openings before the school year begins. Because the positions are funded through federal grants, the staff are not allowed to be used as substitutes within school buildings, which was one of the challenges with the intervention triad program this year.

Magnet coordinator positions were cut from school budgets of the district’s twelve magnet schools for the upcoming school year. Derek Francis, executive director of equity and climate, said the positions were originally intended to last for the first three years of implementation of the Comprehensive District Design which created the current system of magnet schools. The district will provide magnet programs support through four content lead positions at the central office.

Saving other programs

Finance committee chair Abdul Abdi asked for more information about which pre-kindergarten classrooms were cut, and how the district decided which ones to eliminate. The district added 12 pre-kindergarten classrooms in the 2021-22 school year with its pandemic aid which it is eliminating next year.

Abdi also asked if the district would consider adding funding to school budgets to support in-person translators. He noted that in many schools students are being asked to translate during parent-teacher conferences. Sayles-Adams reiterated her request that the board provide a single, unified package of requests about changes they would like made to the budget, rather than discussing each change one-by-one from individual board members.

Several board directors, including Ira Jourdain, Kim Ellison and Abdi expressed support for trying to continue the fifth grade instrumental music program that was developed as part of the Comprehensive District Design. Sayles-Adams told the board that restoring cuts to any one program would require offsetting cuts to be made elsewhere.

Director Joyner Emerick expressed concern about the significant cuts being made to the student support services department, which includes many mental health services for students.

“Almost all of the work that I do in my department and in my division is optional,” Dr. Meghan Hickey, executive director of student support services said. “I anticipated far more reductions and so the things that we've been able to maintain, I am thrilled about. We have been so intentional to look for options and alternatives.”

The budget for the student support services department will be cut by more than 20% and nearly 30 full time equivalent positions will be eliminated next year. Among the budget cuts are positions for college and career counselors, school nurses, school-based mental health services, and some supports for homeless or highly mobile students.

The full board will meet at a committee of the whole meeting on March 26 for additional discussion of the proposed budget. Committee of the whole meetings are working meetings for the board and do not include voting by the board or public comments. The finance committee will meet again on April 30. Finance committee meetings are open to the public to attend in person but are not streamed or recorded. By State law, the board must approve a balanced budget by June 30.