The Minneapolis Public Schools board of education’s finance committee held a discussion meeting on the proposed budget for next school year on April 17.

The committee members include school board Chair Colin Beachy, who was absent, Vice Chair Kim Ellison, committee Chair Abdul Abdi, and board Directors Ira Jourdain and Joyner Emerick.  Dr. Lisa Sayles-Adams, and Senior Officer of Finance and Operations Ibrahima Diop also joined the board for the meeting.

Abdi asked each committee member to share what additional information they would like for the district’s finance team to have prepared for the next finance committee meeting about the budget. At the conclusion of the discussion, board members and Sayles-Adams agreed that information would be forthcoming about the cost of restoring the following programs, as well as alternative cuts that could be made.

The committee is interested in restoring funding for these programs: 

  • The fifth grade instrumental music program for all students 
  • The eight elementary school assistant principal positions 
  • The magnet coordinator positions at the magnet schools
  • The small school subsidy for schools with enrollment below 250 students

The finance committee also proposed eliminating the new “breakthrough teams” proposed in next year’s budget. 

“I don't think this is the time to be creating new programs and new positions coming out of the Davis Center,” Emerick said. 

The breakthrough teams would work with a subset of racially identifiable schools to focus on accelerating academic growth using anti-racist and culturally responsive practices.

“I think that if we are concerned that we need our in-house development to be more efficacious when it comes to being antiracist and culturally responsive then we need to take the programming that we already have and make sure that that programming is meeting our expectations in those realms,” Emerick said. “I don't think that we need to create a new central office program.” 

Jourdain noted that any proposal or changes the board considers could also change once a contract is settled with the teachers’ union. 

“We have to be cognizant that we have to budget for that as well. That's going to be more reductions that we have to make. And what does that exactly look like?” Jourdain said of the cost of a new teacher contract.

The teachers’ union is voting to ratify its contract with the district in early May. 

Board Members Discussed Their Priorities for Changing the Proposed Budget

“We did promise them fifth grade music for all. We did promise them integrated magnet programs fully funded,” Ellison said, referring to the elimination of district funding for fifth grade instrumental music and school-based magnet school coordinators. 

Ellison said there were positions created in recent years, including the intervention triads and the school librarians, that were paid for with federal pandemic aid, but did not come at the direction of the board or after community input. While agreeing that the librarians were important, she believes there should have been a conversation with the community to decide whether something like librarians should be funded if it would require making cuts to other programs.

“My concern was there were also positions that were started not in response to the pandemic, but out of the need that our students have that we never really discussed as a board or even with community,” Ellison said. “Some of those would be the intervention triads, full-time librarian in every library. Important things that we met, [but] that were not in response to the pandemic.”

Ellison said  the board had promised the community funding for specific programs and positions as part of the Comprehensive District Design that the proposed budget eliminates. 

Abdi said he believes it is important for the district to provide funding so that community schools have identical programming across the city. 

“But we have to make sure that the community schools have all the resources equally. I want to envision families moving from South to North East and what they had in South should be available [in Northeast],” Abdi said. 

The district uses a form of site-based budgeting where funding is allocated to buildings, and principals, working with their site council, have some discretion over which programs to provide. This leads to variation across the district in what is available in each school.

Emerick said that their priority for the budget is equity. For them, this means looking at restoring funding for the eight elementary school assistant principal positions that were eliminated from racially identifiable schools where enrollment is lower but students' needs are higher. Emerick also said they would like funding for the magnet coordinator positions to remain at schools rather than being shifted to shared positions in the central office.

“Though we only have three schools in our district that are technically… full service community schools… we have a lot of schools that are de facto full service community schools because they are performing a lot of the duties that a full service community would perform,” Emerick said. “I mean our schools are helping make sure our kids have winter jackets. Our schools are making sure that our families find low barrier dental care. Our schools are helping families access groceries.” Emerick said that these duties are often taken up by assistant principals. 

Emerick also noted that the assistant principal positions cannot be paid for with compensatory revenue. While schools can replace some of the duties with a social worker that could be paid for with compensatory revenue, changing staff would cause a disruption to the school.

Jourdain said that while he supports much of the programming, like fifth grade instrumental music, that the other directors discussed, he is focused on the high-level budget situation. The district is proposing using nearly all of its assigned fund balance to balance the budget next year without making additional cuts. Those funds will not be available in subsequent school years, so the district will need to further reduce its costs in future years.

Jourdain described attending neighborhood meetings in his district, which include people who are not connected to the district through students or employment, who are surprised to hear about the district’s financial challenges. He believes the district needs to resume its former practice of having community meetings about the budget around the city.

The district’s finance team presented information on the costs of the cut programs on April 30.

In previous years, the school board has made changes to the district budget through the process of amending the budget resolution. Jourdain spoke against using that tactic this year because of the damage that caused to district operations in previous years.

“One of the things that I really don't want to do and would be really inclined not to support, would be to fix the budget through resolution,” Jourdain said.