Rising costs, declining revenue bring trouble to public school budget

MPS plans to address $110 million shortfall by reducing staff and programs. No school closings in plan.

Lisa Sayles-Adams, the new Minneapolis Public School (MPS) Superintendent, has been on the job for less than three months and has already participated in two major contract negotiations. Plus, she is facing a 17% budget reduction next year, from this year’s budget of $643,890,246. 
In March, the MPS school board received details of declining revenues that will result in a $110 million shortfall next year due to decreased enrollment and an end to federal aid. District staff predict that 413 fewer students will enroll next September, compared with enrollment from this February. Increasing costs in salaries and benefits, transportation, special education programming, implementing the state’s new reading education requirements, utilities, software licensing and English learning support to students new to the district make the problem even worse.
“It’s very frightening,” said school board director Adriana Cerrillo. “I fear for our children and our city, everyone in this city.”
Cerrillo is running for reelection this year and represents the school system’s 4th district that includes the neighborhoods of Bryn Mawr, Kenwood, Cedar Isle Dean, East Isle, Whittier, Lowry Hill, and Steven Square Loring Heights. “I don’t see enough people fighting,” said Cerrillo. “I’m not going to sit down for solutions. We need to go to the governor; it’s just that simple and the federal government needs to step in, as well. We have money for war, we have money for everything, but we don’t have money for education?” 
The proposed budget cuts $47 million and includes reductions in staff and some programs but no school closings. Staff propose to cover the remaining costs by using $55 million from the district’s fund balance reserves, as well as not hiring people for currently funded but unfilled positions to save another $13 million. The proposal also calls for increasing the class size by three students, in those schools where fewer than “70% of the students are on free or reduced meals.”
“Superintendent Dr. Lisa Sayles-Adams has only been in MPS for two months and should not be held responsible for the actions of past leaders that landed us in this devastating financial situation,” said Lara Bergman, who is running for school board for Southwest’s District 6. “However, I am disappointed that those in the cabinet who created this proposed budget did not ask principals, educators, caregivers, or students for input on how to make these historically large cuts. Why did they spend hour after hour in meetings with each other rather than harnessing this moment as an opportunity to draw on the wisdom of the community?”
District 6, which includes all of Southwest south of Lake St. and areas north of Lake St. near Lake of Isle and Cedar Lake, has been represented by Ira Jourdain, who is not seeking reelection. Bergman and Greta Callahan, who is the current Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President, are both running to replace Jourdain.
“We must look at both what we can do at the state level and the local level when it comes to funding” said Callahan, who recommends that at the state level the district should “start recovering the funds we have lost since 2003 when there was a substantial change to per pupil funding.” She also wants to see Special Education mandates fully funded.
At the local level: “Right now we are outspending similarly sized districts, with similar demographics, when it comes to district administration, transportation, and outside contracts. We need to take a good look at those three areas and dive into how we can spend smarter,” said Callahan. “If we are outspending peer districts on anything, it should be on student instruction.”
Under the proposed budget, funding for individual schools varies depending on the number of students and a few other considerations including the Title 1 funding the school qualifies for, support of English language learning, special education and if the school qualifies for the district’s “racially isolated school support.” In two examples shared in March, per pupil allocations ranged from $7,912 to over $19,000.
As a point of reference, two popular private schools with campuses located in Minneapolis, Blake and Minnehaha Academy, charge $40,607 and $28,900 respectively for 9-11th graders.
In the proposed MPS budget, the per pupil allocation will be reduced for all MPS schools next year, including those in Southwest. Washburn, for example, will be reduced by 8.38% from $9,829 to $9,083. Southwest High School will continue to have the lowest high school allocation, going from $9,094 to $8,331. The largest reduction, however, will be to the magnet school allocation, which is going down 22.74%, from $17,507 to $13,968. Camden High School is going from $19,740 to $16,393 – a 20% reduction.
“I’m concerned about any schools, including ones in Southwest Minneapolis, that don’t have enough enrollment, and therefore revenue, in their building to be able to provide robust programming, create safe environments and get our kids the outcomes they deserve,” said Bergman. “I started hearing from families in Southwest area schools the week the budget cuts came down. The things they’re worried about are larger class sizes and cutting programs that make their kids excited about going to school.”
“I am afraid for the northside,” said Cerrillo. “I’m concerned about everything but more than anything it is academics. I am really concerned about not having the one-on-one support for our kids. The interventions are very costly but very effective and I don’t know if we are going to have the money to do them.”
School board members have raised concerns that may result in changes to the proposed budget. This includes centralizing the magnet coordinators who are currently located in the magnet schools, cutting assistant principals in elementary schools, and eliminating fifth grade band. Objections have also been raised to the proposed $777,120 new investment in “breakthrough teams” that are intended to reduce academic disparities by providing professional development at racially isolated school sites.
“I’m worried that instead of taking this as a moment to start bringing people into the conversation about the long-term financial health of MPS and what needs to happen in order to be financially sustainable, the district may lose out on an opportunity to build trust with families and give them some really good reasons why they should stay and/or choose MPS for the long run,” said Bergman.
“ I hope that we get a plan to attract and retain families, that this administration continues to work well with the workers who make MPS happen, and that MPS becomes a destination district once again,” stated Callahan. 
Callahan noted that 42% of eligible MPS students are not enrolled in MPS schools. She said that the district needs “guaranteed programming that attracts and retains families, like fifth grade band and orchestra.” She also supports maintaining programs like High 5 and K-8 schools which were “almost completely obliterated during the Comprehensive District Design.” She said, “Teacher retention is critical for school stability and establishing deep relationships between schools and families.”
“I’m very anxious, honestly,” said Cerrillo. “I am sick and tired that the kids are not a priority for the system. As a state, we need to start thinking differently and truly putting our children in the forefront.”
“We need courageous leaders that are committed to be student-centered in their decision making,” said Bergman. “I have a tremendous amount of hope that with a new superintendent and a board made up of new faces, that they will have the political will to do things differently by truly engaging everyone in the community and being transparent with how decisions are made.”
The official presentation and reading of the superintendent’s final recommended budget has been set for May 28, with the vote on approving a budget for next year scheduled for June 18.


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  • Christina

    Really appreciate your reporting on this, thank you!

    Thursday, May 16 Report this