The Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education held its regular business meeting on Jan. 9 and its Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 23. The January meetings were the last for Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox. Incoming Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams will join the school board in February. Below is a recap of what happened at those meetings. Recordings of the board meetings can be watched here.
Special education work group forming
At the Jan. 23 meeting, Director Joyner Emerick announced the formation of a new district special education work group that will prioritize representation of people with disabilities.
Last June the board passed a resolution written by Emerick to create the work group by a vote of 7-1. Emerick is disabled and the parent of a disabled student enrolled in Minneapolis Public Schools. The special education work group will include disabled people in the work group by design. The district currently has two other advisory groups on special education, the Special Education Advisory Council, which is for parents of special education students, and the Special Education Labor Management Committee, which is required by the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. Neither of these groups requires membership to include people with disabilities.
“We have not yet caught up to where [the disability advocacy movement] has been since the 1980’s,” Emerick said, explaining why the inclusion of disabled people in the work group will distinguish it from the existing groups in the district that focus on special education.
The work group will focus on “examining the root causes of disproportionality, possible solutions to address increasing inclusion, and how to provide Special Education services that sustain cultures of disability.”
Public data dashboard now available
At the Jan. 9 meeting, Morrigan Hughes, Minneapolis Public Schools’ senior data scientist, explained the district’s new public data dashboard to the school board. The dashboard has five years worth of data on district academics, staffing, facilities, budgets and more for each of the district’s schools.
Minneapolis Schools Voices is excited to explore the new data. If you find something interesting, reach out and let us know at email@example.com or by text at 612-491-6770.
Possible school calendar changes
The administration shared a proposal to change the school calendar that it has proposed in contract negotiations with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. The proposal would reduce the number of school days, but increase the length of student days. The proposal would also bring back snow days in lieu of two online days for all students. The board would need to pass a resolution modifying the student calendar for the 2024-25 school year, if the district and union reach an agreement.
The board is also considering a proposal to shift the record keeping day that students are not in school to election day in November.
Over the next year, the district will also bring together staff members and administrators to form a calendar committee. The committee will recommend a calendar for school years 2025-26, 2026-27 and 2027-28 for board approval in January or February 2025.
Increase in students new to the United States and multilingual students
At the Jan. 23 meeting, Muhidin Warfa, executive director of Minneapolis Public Schools multilingual and magnet programs, said the district has seen nearly 3,700 newly enrolled students in the past year whose home language is not English. In total the district has about 6,200 students who are English learners.
The majority of newly enrolled multilingual students identify Spanish as their home language, with about 500 identifying Somali and about 70 identifying Pashto or Dari as their home language. Warfa said most of the Spanish home language students are newcomers to the United States, while most of the Somali home language students are from the United States.
Compared to last school year, the number of English learner students assessed at the lowest level of proficiency in English has increased by 70%. These are the students who need the most intensive level of services to become proficient in English. Students assessed at level two, who also require intensive services, have increased 30% since last year.
Not all newly enrolled students have been assessed yet. The district assesses newly enrolled students for English proficiency using the ACCESS assessment, which assigns a level from one to five, with one being the lowest proficiency in English. According to Marth Swenson, director of enrollment management, the assessment takes about one hour.
Warfa said the district has changed the way that it staffs schools to support English learners by weighting students with the lowest proficiency more heavily. This has reduced the ratio of students to teachers.
The district added funding for 25 new English learner teacher positions this year, and has been able to fill 23 of the positions. Three bilingual Spanish-speaking associate educators have been hired, who move between buildings. There is funding to hire two more.
Warfa is asking for additional teachers for “sheltered” classrooms next school year. Sheltered classrooms are content classes, like math or science, with only English learner students. They ideally have less than 16 students, and the teacher uses a variety of techniques to support instruction for students with limited English proficiency. Warfa said he is also requesting additional English learner teaching positions for next school year.
Immigration status keeps many newcomers from accessing government supports
Thaddeus Lesiak, coordinator of the Minneapolis Public Schools family resource center, explained to the school board the challenges of connecting students and families new to the United States to support in the community. He said that Spanish-speaking newcomer students are not eligible for most types of state, county and federal resources because of their immigration status. This is in contrast to the newcomer students and families that came to the district from Afghanistan in recent years.
Lesiak said there is a significant need for housing assistance for newcomer families. He also said newcomer students and families need mental health services in their home language, but there are not enough providers with the language fluency to meet their needs.
District changes policy for transporting newcomers living outside district
Cox said that starting in January, the district will no longer enroll newcomer students who are staying in shelters outside of Minneapolis who have not previously lived in the district. The district had been enrolling students from suburban shelters, including Bloomington and Wayzata, to Minneapolis Public Schools schools, even if the students had not lived in the district prior to moving to a suburb. Under federal law, homeless and highly mobile students must be transported to the district where they are enrolled for the duration of the school year, even if they move out of the district. The district is not required to enroll and transport students who were never district residents. Newcomer students who are already enrolled in Minneapolis Public Schools and currently live outside the district will continue to receive transportation for the remainder of the school year.
Property tax referendum update
The district is recommending that the school board utilize new authority granted by the State legislature to automatically renew the district’s current operating referendum. This year the operating referendum will generate $66 million for the district, which is around 10% of its funding.
The school board is considering asking voters in November to increase the capital referendum by $20 million per year. The capital referendum is commonly referred to as the technology levy, and currently generates about $16 million per year via property taxes. The district primarily uses these funds to support information technology in the district. This increase would cost the owner of a home valued at $350,000 around $7 per month. The additional funding would be sufficient to cover the entire cost of the district’s current information technology budget. The district could use the money it currently spends on information technology from its general fund on other expenses in the district.
Racial covenants erased at Lake Nokomis Wenonah Elementary School
The board voted unanimously to remove racial covenants on deeds that make up the property for Lake Nokomis Wenonah Elementary School. This is the second time this school year the board has gotten rid of racial covenants on district property. In Oct. 2023, the board voted to discharge racial covenants on several parcels that make up Lake Harriet Lower Campus Elementary School.