The Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education tackled a full agenda on Nov. 14 , setting up the board to vote at its Dec. 12 business meeting on a resolution directing the district to develop a plan for “school transformation,” which is shorthand for addressing the district’s financial and operational imbalances. 

The board will also vote in December on resolutions to address adding sixth grade to Seward Montessori School in the 2024-25 school year, changing the name of Patrick Henry High School to Camden High School, and repealing two outdated board policies relating to public appearances by district students. 

In addition to the resolutions, Thom Roethke, director of Budget and Planning, presented to the board information on the district’s financial situation. He said that, as predicted in prior years, the pro forma financial projection anticipates “upcoming financial challenges” if the district does not make any changes to its current operations.

“Action is needed to preserve district solvency.”

Since 2019, the district’s financial projections have anticipated a significant budget deficit that threatens district solvency, which could lead to intervention by the State of Minnesota if it goes unaddressed. 

The district initially anticipated insolvency in the 2022-23 school year, but used its federal pandemic aid, called ESSER, to maintain its operations and increase its fund balance. Those federal funds expire in September 2024, leaving the district with similar financial challenges as it had before the pandemic. The district’s structural budget issues have been exacerbated by larger than expected declines in enrollment, despite increases in per student funding by the State. 

At the meeting, Roethke described the district’s finances as unsustainable for three primary reasons. 

First, enrollment is expected to continue to decline, even as the kindergarten cohort size stabilizes, because smaller kindergarten cohorts are replacing larger graduating cohorts. Because funding is tied primarily to enrollment, overall revenue is expected to decrease, despite recent increases in State funding. 

Second, the district has more physical space, and lower enrollment per school, than comparable districts. This increases the costs of operating the district. 

Third, operating more school buildings, with fewer students per school, means Minneapolis Public Schools operates with fewer students per staff member than comparable districts. This also increases the costs of operating the district.

In short, enrollment is down, but the number of teachers, staff, and school buildings are not, leading to the current budget crunch.

As the pandemic-era federal funds expire, the district can no longer utilize these funds to make up for the imbalance between its revenue and its expenses. Roethke told the board action is needed to address the district’s operating structure. 

According to Roethke, the current pro forma includes all the new funding allocated by the State, including tying the general formula aid to inflation, up to three percent. The pro forma also assumes the district will continue to budget for “intervention triad” staff, an effort intended to help students catch up from learning loss during the pandemic, even though the intervention triads were initially pitched as a one-year plan using $30 million in ESSER funds

Although not all intervention triad positions have been filled, the program added nearly 400 new educator positions to the district budget, even as enrollment has declined. 

The board will vote to select a permanent superintendent at a special meeting on Dec. 1.

On Nov. 21, the board announced the two finalists for permanent superintendent are Dr. Sonia Stewart and Dr. Lisa Sayles- Adams. The board will vote on a permanent superintendent at 4pm on Dec. 1 in a public meeting at Davis Center, which will also be live-streamed. Negotiations on compensation, start date and other contract provisions will happen after the board makes its selection.

At the Nov. 14 board meeting, the board apologized for not including a Hmong or Asian person on the superintendent search task force, which was charged with interviewing candidates and selecting the finalists. Director Lori Norvell, who led the search task force, brought the oversight to the board for discussion at the request of the search task force.

Proposal would change the name of Patrick Henry High School to Camden High School

The student-driven process that Patrick Henry School used to select potential new names for the school was shared to the board by Marcus Zachary, an MPS parent and public relations coordinator for the district; Alex Leonard, former counselor at Patrick Henry; Arielle Rocca, school improvement specialists and former science teacher at Patrick Henry; and Brittany Pinelas of Beacons Boys and Girls Club.

The district directed the school to change its name in 2022. In 2018, an attempt to change the name faced significant backlash from alumni of the school. The school is named after Patrick Henry, a founding father who played an instrumental role in developing support for independence from British colonial rule before the Revolutionary War and also owned slaves.

Rocca shared that Patrick Henry High School administration started the process by collecting suggested names, followed by students conducting research and writing a voting guide about each proposed name. Students presented information about the options at multiple events at the school, and also presented to Olson Middle School students, many of whom will eventually enroll at the high school.

Patrick Henry students Jeremie Niyonkuru, Jr. and Devonte White-Sledge explained to the board the criteria the community used to select a new name, including that the person must be both a historical figure,deceased, and have a connection to the school or themes and values that represent the school. Initially, 324 potential names were submitted for consideration. 

The final selections were Prince High School, Camden High School and Victory High School. Because the estate of Prince did not respond to district inquiries, that name was eliminated from consideration. Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox is recommending that the board vote to approve Camden High School at the December 12 board meeting.

The board will vote on a resolution to direct the district to undertake planning for “school transformation” at its December meeting. 

The draft resolution on school transformation directs district administration to begin a “transformation process” that will include a physical space study, community engagement, finding central office efficiencies, and a Spanish Dual Language Task Force. The resolution says “transformation is necessary” to implement the district’s strategic plan, and accomplish its mission and vision for anti-racist education for all of its students. 

It also says that transformation should result in a district that is fiscally and operationally sustainable, which may include closing or consolidating schools or possible cuts to teachers or staff.  

The board is expected to vote on a resolution to add sixth grade to Seward Montessori in 2024-25.

Although the district has said it would not make any changes to enrollment options before the 2025-26 school year as part of “school transformation,” the board will vote on a separate resolution that would expand Seward Montessori School next school year by adding sixth grade. The school currently enrolls students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The change is aimed at aligning the school with the grade levels traditionally provided at Montessori schools, as well as retaining students. Cox told the board at the Oct. 25 committee of the whole meeting that, currently, most Seward students leave the district after fifth grade.

Before the regular business meeting on Dec. 12, the board has rescheduled the November committee of the whole meeting for Dec. 5 at 6pm. The Dec. 12 meeting will include the annual audit report from the district’s auditors, Bergen KDV, and will serve as the district’s required “truth in taxation” meeting before the board votes on certification of the 2023 property tax levy.