Principals in Minneapolis Public Schools received their funding allocations for the upcoming school year on Feb. 16. Over the next three weeks, in consultation with staff, students and parents, principals will prepare their building budgets for the 2023-24 school year. This process is called Budget Tie Out (BTO). 

Minneapolis Schools Voices was able to sit down with four MPS principals before they received their allocations to discuss what the BTO process is like at their schools, and how students, parents and staff are involved in the process. The principals also shared how they have managed recent budgets at their schools, the trade-offs they have made, and what they hope to prioritize for this school year.

Parents and community members who would like to have input into or learn more about their school’s budget can look for meetings with their principal, typically as part of the school’s site council, in the coming weeks.

Gathering Input from School Staff

“I start right after Thanksgiving and meet with every staff member for half an hour,” Lucy Laney Principal Lisa Pawelak explained about the process she uses to gather stakeholder input at her elementary school. She asks staff to rank their priorities for existing positions, as well as asks where the school could increase staffing to better support students, and where they may be currently over-staffed.

Like Pawelak, Andersen Middle School Principal Tara Fitzgerald has one on one conversations with the educators and staff at her school to learn what their priorities are for the school’s budget. Andersen is both the community middle school for the South High School attendance area, and it is the Spanish Dual Immersion Magnet for middle school students. The instructional teams at Andersen also submit their priorities for the budget to Fitzgerald.

Emily Palmer, the principal at Washburn High School, solicits staff feedback from a budget team. The school’s union stewards facilitate the process of choosing which staff members are on the budget team. Teachers from different departments, support staff and non licensed staff are all represented on the budget team.

Gathering Student Input 

Pawelak engages her school’s student council in conversations about the school’s budget. She explains what positions the school currently has and asks students what they would like prioritized in the coming year. 

“It’s always the health office. They need to know. ‘How's my mom going to reach me if she needs me and what's going to happen if I get sick?’ And, when we used to have a security monitor, that was way up at the top, too. ‘If something happens, who's going to keep me safe?’” Pawelak says of her students’ priorities.

Northeast Middle School Principal Vernon Rowe gathers feedback from all students through a survey. “We always send out a survey to our kids because the one thing that we pride ourselves on here at Northeast Middle School is that we personally believe that our kids need variety.”

Rowe explained that his students are at an age where they are developing their identity, and offering a variety of electives is crucial for that process. 

Fitzgerald also collects student feedback on their priorities before she builds the building budget. Questions are tailored differently for students than the questions asked of parents and staff. Current students can respond through a survey, and she also collects feedback from incoming students. 

“Any new students that might be at Anderson next year can come to our open house, learn about Anderson, and also give us feedback via both a survey that's in a Google form and face-to-face feedback,” Fitzgerald shared.

At Washburn, Palmer sends a survey to students, staff and parents, asking each group of stakeholders the same questions. Like at Andersen, the survey at Washburn is conducted in three languages, English, Spanish and Somali. For students, Palmer said she can look at responses by grade level to see if there are differences in the priorities for students.

Gathering Parent Input

“I know what my families want because I asked those questions,” Rowe says.  “My site council is not the demographics of my school. And therefore I have to be that mediator.” 

Beyond the site council, Rowe explained, “We have affinity groups because some of our families don't feel comfortable or there's a language barrier. We have an affinity group for our Native families. We have an affinity group for our Somali families. We have an affinity group for our Latino families.”

Rowe attends the affinity group meetings rather than having a formal survey. He uses these meetings to explain both what needs parents identify that he can meet, and those that he can’t, based on his budget. 

“Last year, my site council collectively refused to complete that,” Pawelak said about an exercise to rank priorities at Lucy Laney last year. “They [said] we're doing this on the moral ground that we need all of it. And we will not rank.” 

Without their specific input, Pawelak felt her families placed their trust in her to build a budget to meet student needs, she explained. 

“We never ask what to cut, because nobody wants to cut,” Palmer explained about the Washburn survey. Instead, Palmer includes questions like, “If we have less funding, what would be your priority to keep?” Questions also include “What’s important to preserve?” and “What do you think is our greatest challenge?”

At Washburn, the site council plays a significant role in advising on the school’s budget. Consisting of students, staff, parents and community members, the site council began discussing the priorities for the next school year in December 2022. It will meet during the budget tie-out process to advise Palmer before she submits her final budget to the district.

The Impact of Last Spring’s Second Budget Tie Out Process

At Lucy Laney, Pawelak is hoping to be able to add a STEM coordinator position she had to cut during the second budget tie out process last spring after the educators’ strike.

“The last few years we've funded a STEM coordinator or science specialist. And we don't have that person this year because the dollars were decreased so much, but that's something that's been coming up in the mid-year meetings,” Pawelak said. Classroom teachers have shared that they are having difficulty covering all of the science standards, on top of the math, literacy and social studies that they covered in previous years.

Andersen Middle School was also impacted by the second round of budget tie-out last spring. “We did end up cutting one social worker to have our full support squads and to be able to have a bilingual restorative practice dean,” Fitzgerald explained. 

Andersen has grade level “support squads” which include two deans, one social worker, one counselor and an assistant principal for each grade level at the school. In addition, the squads share the support of Fitzgerald, a multi-tiered systems of support coordinator, school psychologist, school nurse and an English Learner coordinator. These teams work together to meet the needs of individual students, or to address grade-wide challenges at the school.

“Where I think we felt it, our class sizes took a hit. So we went from a class size of twenty-eight to a class size of thirty-two,” Fitzgerald said of the impact of the second budget tie out in April 2022.

Challenges of mid-year student placements and increasing number of English Learners

Although Fitzgerald and her staff originally felt that the class size increase would be manageable, they had not anticipated the number of new students who would arrive at Anderden during the current school year. District administration anticipated enrollment at Andersen would be 851 students this year, but as of October 1, 2022, the school had 877 students enrolled. By January 1, enrollment had increased to 892. At the time of our interview in early February 2023, Fitzgerald said enrollment was now up to 911 students.

Many of the new students at Andersen are newcomers- students who have recently arrived in the United States, often with limited formal schooling and little or no English. Fitzgerald said class sizes are now 35-36 students, and may include 4-5 students who are newcomers in each class. Many of the newcomers’ home language is Pashto or Dari.

“We're excited about welcoming students into the building. But it takes a toll when you don't have any chairs in the room. You're working to make that happen and welcome students into your building and want to be successful,” Fitzgerald said, describing the challenges the school has faced.

Fitzgerald credits the support squads with being able to meet the needs of the newcomers at her school. “We now have the capacity to take care of them. So yes, the numbers are high in math and ELA, and that's hard. But their mental health, their academic support, their logistics of how to navigate school. The whole child is surrounded with that support team, which is nice.”

Since the Comprehensive District Design, Pawelak says Lucy Laney has seen a dramatic increase in English Learners. There are eight Spanish-speaking newcomer students at Lucy Laney this year, a significant change from previous year, according to Pawelak. The school has also gone from less than five English Learners school-wide prior to the Comprehensive District Design, to around twenty-five English Learner students this year. To meet student needs, Pawelak is hoping to increase the school’s English Language Learner teacher position from halftime to full time next year.

Meeting the Needs of Homeless and Highly Mobile Students

There has also been an increase in homeless and highly mobile students at Lucy Laney this year. Through a partnership with the city of Minneapolis, Lucy Laney has a social worker funded just to support families in accessing rental assistance. The school has added ten students, according to district data, between October 2022 and January 2023. This is likely an undercount because Pawelak says they have had students enroll for a short period of time, and then unenroll. The district hasn’t released data on the number of homeless and highly mobile students for this school year, yet.

“I mean shelters are overflowing. There are people out in Maple Grove,” Pawelak said of the housing situations some of her families are facing.

During our interview with Pawelak, Assistant Principal Joshua Catledge brought one of the newly enrolled students at Lucy Laney in to meet Pawelak. Pawelak demonstrated an incredible ability to convey both kindness and expectations with students. 

Greeting the student, she complimented him and welcomed him to Lucy Laney. But then pivoted, saying, “Are you going to be here at school every day?” When the student responded with uncertainty, Pawelak continued, “You need to be. You’ve been a Lucy Laney student for two weeks, but this is just the third day you have been at school. I want to see you here every day.”

Part of creating a budget that meets student needs includes having the staff in the school to support these student needs. Many of the students at Lucy Laney who have unstable housing also have additional needs that require additional school staff to meet those needs. Pawelak said many of these students qualify for special education services, or require intensive academic support to work towards grade level proficiency. 

At Northeast Middle School, Rowe also strives to meet the needs of his students who have unstable housing. He estimates about 9% of his students are homeless or highly mobile this year.  

“Many of our kids come in and they're gone and then they come back,” Rowe explained. “They’re following the housing.” 

For educators at Northeast, this can mean using all or part of their planning time reaching out to parents or caregivers to learn more about the specific challenges a student is facing, and developing a plan to support the student.

Prioritizing Student Supports Post-Pandemic

“Post-pandemic everyone was very, very united around the need for more counselors and social workers,” Palmer said about the priorities for funding at Washburn.

Palmer says her budget allocation for this year only included three counselors for the school of over 1500 students, initially. She was able to add a fourth counselor through a grant program that district administration helped her access last spring. 

At the time of the interview, Palmer had not yet received her budget allocation for the upcoming school year, and was still in the process of soliciting feedback from students, staff and parents. She wasn’t sure if the unified priority for social workers and counselors would continue this year, or if there would be a divergence between the priorities of stakeholder groups at the school.

Northeast Middle School prioritizes having a seven period day as one way to ensure all of its students have access to a variety of elective classes. 

“When you have kids that are on IEP's and they need some form of intervention classes, they don't get the opportunity [to explore] because you are going to take those from electives,” Rowe explained. By offering a seven period day, Rowe can make sure all students have access to electives outside of core courses. This is a priority for students, families and staff at Northeast.

In addition to student electives, the seven period day allows teachers at Northeast Middle School to have two prep periods that wouldn’t be possible with a six period schedule. One of the two preparation periods is used by educators for collaboration as part of their Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Having all teachers participating in PLCs this year has been part of the district’s strategic plan implementation.

Rowe shared how valuable the PLCs have been for teachers at Northeast. Teachers can use their planning time to connect with parents by phone, email or text. 

Principals have until March 9 to complete their budgets for the upcoming school year. They are currently in the process of soliciting staff, parent and community feedback on their budgets. Individuals can contact their school’s principal or site council for more information on how that process happens at their school.

Have you participated in the budget process with your child’s school or at the school where you work? We’d love to hear from you about your experience with this process.