The MPS school board met for its regular business meeting at the Davis Center on Tuesday. The board heard presentations on multilingual and magnet programs, subsidies at small schools, racial demographics at magnet schools since the implementation of the Comprehensive District Design and an update on the district budget.

Part of the CDD, which the district began to implement in the 2021-2022 school year, changed the magnet school system within the district. Prior to 2021, students had access to magnet programs within zones based on their home address, but the CDD made magnet schools citywide so that any student can apply to a lottery to attend any magnet school in the district.

Racial demographics at magnet schools

Senior Advisor to the Superintendent Eric Moore presented data showing the changing racial demographics for students at the district’s magnet schools. He said that the district intentionally placed magnet programs in schools with high percentages of students of color and families that qualify for free and reduced price lunches, which usually go hand-in-hand, to draw white families to the schools. The goal is to bring these “racially identifiable” schools closer to the district’s average of 63-64% students of color.

While nearly all of the elementary magnet schools’ students of color percentages decreased, only two of the nine met the overall district average for students of color in 2022. 

Schools like Bethune, Emerson and Green show overall declines in the percent of students of color, but Moore said that kindergarten demographics are especially important data points because that’s when most families send their children to magnet schools. 

While Emerson and Green were 87 and 95% students of color prior to the CDD, both percentages decreased. Marcy Open School’s student of color population increased slightly, and Seward’s overall demographics have changed little since 2019. Sullivan’s student of color population has increased with the introduction of the Somali language program.

The district uses percentages of students of color over time to show how demographics at magnet schools have changed since implementing the CDD. It’s important to note that the Black population at MPS has declined from 36% to 30% in the past two years (Anna Koenning).

Another issue Moore brought up was the gaps in magnet pathways, where elementary magnet programs don’t continue through middle or high school. An example is Ella Baker, which is a kindergarten through eighth grade global studies school, which doesn’t have a high school with a comparable humanities-based program. He laid out a process and cost for adding high school magnet programs to fill these gaps.

Multilingual and magnet programs

Executive Director of Multilingual and Magnet Programs Muhidin Warfa presented on developments in multilingual and magnet programs historically and since the implementation of the CDD. Warfa’s presentation focused mainly on the Hmong and Somali heritage language programs, which are  programs that reflect the languages and cultures of students in the district. 

One goal of the language programs is for students to earn the Bilingual Seal, a district award for students who show proficiency in a language in addition to English.

The high school Somali world language class began at South High in 2013, and five years later a language and an ethnic studies class were added to Heritage Academy. Sullivan and Lyndale Elementary started elective Somali programming in 2021 as part of the CDD. The classes are currently offered for students from kindergarten to second grade, and the schools add a grade each year.

Warfa brought up the pathways for multilingual programs as well. There are Hmong classes from kindergarten through seventh grade and again in high school, and the district is adding an eighth grade class in the 2023-2024 school year. For the Somali language programming, there is a gap from second grade to high school. Enrollment is low for both programs. 

Small school subsidies

Director of Budget Thom Roethke presented on the subsidies that small schools receive. Schools with fewer than 250 students are eligible to receive an extra $200 per student from the district to be used at the school’s discretion. This subsidy exists to support schools that might otherwise lack the resources to support students. According to Roethke, many eligible schools have high percentages of students living in poverty. The percentage of students at MPS who attend small schools is projected to increase in the 2023-2024 school year, which means the budget for these schools will also have to increase.

Roethke left the board with questions about the purpose of small schools in the district, the district’s willingness to provide extra resources to support the schools and whether the schools are adequately resourced considering the district’s limited budget.

Other info from the meeting

There was an update on school budgets at Tuesday’s meeting. According to the timeline for the 2023-2024 budget, schools and departments will finalize their budget by March 3 and get final approval by the board on June 13. The budgets are being set with the knowledge that the district is facing a budget crisis in the 2024-2025 school year

Executive Director of Equity and School Climate Derek Francis presented on racial integration efforts with the Achievement and Integration Plan. Francis discussed how funding is being used to encourage integration and support a healthy school climate for students from diverse backgrounds. 

The board also recognized 11-year-old Lucy Laney student Lavendar Nelson for her eight national boxing championship wins. Nelson, sporting championship belts many sizes too big for her, bashfully stood while the audience applauded and snapped photos.

Lucy Laney fifth grader and national boxing champion, Lavendar Nelson, was recognized by the Board of Education on Feb. 14. 

During the public comments portion of the meeting, several MPS community members thanked the board for extending the superintendent search deadline and asked the board to improve the community engagement portion of the search. The superintendent search listening sessions throughout the district were poorly attended

The school board will meet on Feb. 21 for the Finance Committee and a Special Meeting for the superintendent search. Board meeting information and links to livestreams and archived videos are available online.