The Minneapolis Public Schools board of education met Tuesday evening for its April business meeting where it received a lengthy report on the district's transportation services from the MPS Equity and Diversity Impact Analysis (EDIA) committee. The board also received a brief update about the budget process, interrupted the funding process for two school playgrounds after community members expressed accessibility concerns, and approved a voter levy.

After nearly two years of work, the EDIA committee returned an extensive list of recommendations to improve student transportation that includes changing the communication process with parents, and working with Metro Transit to improve the safety of high school students who use public transportation to travel to and from school.

Transportation study

Using data from the district’s transportation department, along with surveys and interviews with transportation staff, families and bus drivers, the report paints a picture of a transportation system that works well for financially stable, English-speaking families but not as well for families of students with disabilities, students who are homeless or highly mobile, or whose home language is not English.

Among the many findings in the report:

  • Black and American Indian students accounted for 113 disciplinary referral related to transportation, which white students accounted for just 12.
  • While over 80% of parents said their students are safe both riding and waiting for regular or special education bus service, over 40% of parents said they do not believe their children are safe riding Metro Transit.
  • The district uses an app to track buses that is only available in English and Spanish, which is a barrier to some parents using the app.
  • All district and contractor buses have GPS, but “Type III” vehicles which the district uses to provide transportation for some special education and homeless and highly mobile students do not.
  • Families of color reported feeling discriminated against by bus drivers and district transportation staff.
  • Drivers reported preferring to drive routes on the Southside of the city because of perceived concerns about safety on Northside bus routes.

The district typically completes an EDIA analysis each year with a committee of community members. In previous years, the committee has examined funding for high school athletics, the experiences of teachers of color, student placement and private fundraising by schools and affiliated organizations. The EDIA committee is looking for new members, and has asked the board to select a topic for its next analysis by June.

District budget update

Ibrahima Diop, senior officer of finance and operations, delivered a brief update to the board about the ongoing process to close the district’s budget gap of at least $110 million for next school year. Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams spoke before him, acknowledging the impact the proposed budget cuts will have on students, staff and the community.

“I want to again acknowledge the difficulty and pain that comes with the budget reductions. We heard that again at public comment. We heard it from our students, from our community members, from our staff that are impacted. So I just want to recognize that this is extremely challenging,” Sayles-Adams said.

Sayles-Adams thanked Gov. Walz and the State Legislature for the increase in State funding that was passed last spring. She called on the federal government to increase the amount of funding that it provides to public schools, and to meet its unfulfilled promise to cover a larger portion of special education costs.

“And despite how painful it is, we will present a balanced budget to the board that we believe will best serve our students with the resources that we have,”  Sayles-Adams said. “We will provide you and the community with our best assessment of the realities of different budget scenarios. If you as a governing body, you want to amend or change something. We will ensure you have information you need on the potential impacts of any budget decisions.”

Diop opened his remarks by also acknowledging the public commenters who spoke about the impact of budget cuts at the beginning of the meeting, saying, “Any decision that we've made to bring this budget before you is not something that we've taken lightly. I have to say that some of the complaints or the comments that we heard here today, I hear that at home because my son is a student and speaks the same way in defense of his teachers.”

Diop explained that the district has delayed the start of its internal hiring process for teachers, known as interview and select, by a week. The delay is because of a change to State law last year that restricted the ways schools can use compensatory revenue funds. Some schools have had to revise their budgets to comply with the changes, which will impact which positions they retain next year and which positions they will eliminate. Compensatory revenue is State aid based on the number and proportion of students at a school who qualify for free or reduced price meals under federal guidelines.

The district and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers remain in mediation over the teacher contract. Diop reminded the board that the budgets for schools and the central office will need to be revised once the contracts are settled because the contract is likely to cost more than what the district had previously budgeted for teachers. He said that the finance department staff has already begun preparing a process for making changes to the budget when the contract is finalized.

Accessible playgrounds

Director Joyner Emerick motioned for two of three playground projects, at Pratt and Bryn Mawr Elementary Schools, to be removed from the consent agenda in response to public comments asking for playgrounds at district schools to be designed to be accessible to students with disabilities. At the meeting, Diop said he was unable to confer with Curt Hartog, executive director of capital planning, about the playground projects because he was traveling.

Diop said he would ensure that any future playground contracts include provisions that the designs are made accessible to all children. Both Emerick and Diop expressed that the public comments were the first time they had heard that there were issues of accessibility for the district’s playgrounds.

The board passed the consent agenda unanimously with the playground projects removed. Director Sharon El-Amin abstained from the vote. The board directed Diop and his staff to revise the contracts for the playgrounds to include a provision that they be accessible.

2024 voter levy

The board unanimously approved a resolution announcing its intention to place a capital projects levy increase on the general election ballot in November. The levy, commonly called a technology levy, would raise approximately $20 million. The district will be able to use the new levy funds in combination with its existing technology levy to cover the full cost of its information technology department. The funding the district currently uses to pay for information technology can then be used to pay for other operating expenses. The technology levy is different from the operating levy which is based on the number of students and limited by the State.

The board will meet again on April 23 for a committee of the whole meeting. Committee of the whole meetings are working meetings for the board and do not include public comments or voting by the board. On April 30, the board’s finance committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. Finance committee meetings are open to the public but they are not recorded or streamed.