More students, less money

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April 1, 2013
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
More than half of district schools facing reduced budgets in 2013-2014

Parents are sounding the alarm over the proposed 2013–2014 school budgets Minneapolis Public Schools sent to its principals in mid-March.

More than half of schools are in line to receive fewer dollars from the district next year than they did this year — hundreds of thousands of dollars less, in many cases. The district is growing, so while the district’s proposed budget would hold the allotment to schools steady, there will be fewer dollars available per pupil come next fall.

Some schools appear to be facing significant cuts that could force them to eliminate non-teaching positions, including office staff, social workers, recess monitors and health professionals. Some high school teachers may also lose their jobs, and elementary schools that offer full-day kindergarten may be forced to scale back to half-day.

As word spread through parent-teacher associations and school site councils, a group of about 40 parents from Southwest Minneapolis whose children attend schools in Area C drafted a letter to the School Board asking them to reject a budget they deemed “catastrophic.”

Melissa Riebe, president of the Burroughs Community School Parent Teacher Association, said the proposed budget sent to Principal Tim Cadotte would lead to a roughly 8-percent cut to the school’s budget next school year.

“People are asking how can this be? How can a school really function?” Riebe said. “How do you make the choice: Do you have a social worker, or do you have a front-office person watching people go in and out?”

The proposed allocation to Burroughs amounted to a budget cut of nearly $270,000. Allocations were smaller by more than $800,000 at both Anthony Middle School and Lake Harriet Community School’s Upper Campus. Both Washburn and Southwest high schools faced reductions of more than $400,000.

Area C isn’t the only part of the district feeling the pain, either. The biggest cut was to Edison High School, where the current $9.5-million annual budget would be slashed by more than $2 million.

Chief Financial Officer Robert Doty said the district was facing a $25-million shortfall and attempted to spare schools by first cutting at the central office. After administrators made $16.3 million in targeted cuts, department heads agreed to a 1.86-percent across-the-board reduction.

Central office staffing will be reduced by more than 50 full-time equivalent positions. Schools will each lose one school administrative manager, or SAM, and two reading specialists, positions paid for through the central office.

Those moves saved the district roughly $18 million, and another $7 million in spending was shifted from the 2013–2014 budget to this year’s budget, Doty said.

Doty said he was trying to protect the district’s reserve fund, which was tapped to balance the current school year’s budget. The district ended the 2012 fiscal year with $121 million in reserves, but Doty expected only about $94 million left in the fund by the end of this fiscal year.

Nevertheless, district leaders may tap into those reserves if they need to add kindergarten classrooms again next fall. And Doty said he had a separate “pot of money” to make up shore up the budgets of those schools facing the harshest cuts, but he wouldn’t say exactly how much was in that pot until after associate superintendents had an opportunity to meet with principals.

“We will try to close that gap for as many schools as we can,” he said.

Some programs will even grow next year under the proposed budget. The district plans to hire a dozen English as a second language teachers and to expand a program that gives high school students city bus passes.

The School Board doesn’t vote on the budget until June. In the meantime, many school leaders are preparing to cinch up their belts.

Christa Anders, who chairs the Southwest High School Foundation, said Principal Bill Smith told the foundation in mid-March he had cut two teachers from next year’s budget and might have to cut two more. According to Anders, Smith suggested the foundation might have to shift fundraising priorities to backfill the budget cuts.

“He just looked at us and said, ‘You guys, I’ve got a $400,000 cut; you’re going to have to fundraise for teachers,’” she said.

Lois Hall, co-chair of the Kenny Community School Site Council, said the cuts likely mean Principal Bill Gibbs will have to eliminate the school’s two full-day kindergarten sections and instead offer only half-day kindergarten next year. Hall warned against cutting so deeply that the district’s recent growth trend is reversed.

“If I was in their shoes down at headquarters, I would say it is not good to dig into reserves, but it is also not good to damage the situation so badly that getting out of it is going to cost us untold dollars and an unpredictable amount of time to un-break what we are going to break right now,” Hall said.

To learn more about the district’s budget proposal and review recent budgets, go to mpls.k12.mn.us/school_finance_2.html.