Minneapolis principals told to slash school budgets

Share this:
March 15, 2013 // UPDATED 10:31 pm - March 15, 2013
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
Cuts endanger staff, all-day kindergarten programs and some high school teachers

UPDATE: This story was updated Friday afternoon with comments from district Chief Financial Officer Robert Doty.

Parents are sounding the alarm over the proposed 2013–2014 school budgets Minneapolis Public Schools sent to its principals this week.

The district’s proposed budget calls for no change in the allocations to schools from this school year to next. But at schools where enrollment is rising — including many located in Southwest Minneapolis — that means there will be fewer dollars per student next school year.

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 may cut back on full-day kindergarten offerings.

A letter signed by nearly 40 Southwest-area parents — including many serving on their schools’ parent-teacher associations and site councils — asks members of the School Board to “reject” the proposed school budgets.

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

“What the district is saying is they need to make a $25-million cut, so for each school it’s fairly significant,” Riebe said.

District Chief Financial Officer Robert Doty said the $25 million in cuts were largely made to district administration in an effort to spare schools. Central office staffing will be reduced by more than 50 full-time equivalent positions next year, and after making $16.3 million in cuts, the district leadership team agreed to a 1.86-percent across-the-board cut to all departments, Doty said.

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, he said.

Doty said he’s trying to protect the district’s reserve fund, which has been drawn down in recent years to cover budget shortfalls. District leaders warned that approach was unsustainable. In budget documents on the district’s website, there are warnings about the potential impacts of expected reductions in state and federal funding to schools (“Facing the Budget Challenge”).

If district allocations to schools are held steady next year, as expected, the pain will be felt unevenly. Schools in Area C — which includes most of Southwest and parts of South Minneapolis — are likely to be hit particularly hard for two reasons.

First, enrollment is rising in many Area C schools, which means per-pupil funding will decrease. Second, the school populations in Area C tend to be more affluent than the rest of the district, and fewer schools receive federal Title 1 funds. Those funds may buoy the per-pupil funding at schools with concentrated poverty.

Christa Anders, who chairs the Southwest High School Foundation and next year will have three children at the school, said Principal Bill Smith told the foundation this week he has already cut two teachers from next year’s budget and may 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. It’s a choice other schools may be faced with, as well.

Hall said the cuts could actually dig the district into a deeper hole if they end up scaring away Minneapolis families. After a decade-long decline, district enrollment has been on an upward trajectory in recent years.

“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.

A copy of the letter emailed yesterday to School Board members is posted below. The Friday morning meeting referred to in the text is the March 15 meeting of the School Board's Finance Committee.

Board of Directors

Minneapolis Public School District

March 14, 2013

 Subject:  Please reject the proposed 2013-14 school budget

Dear Board of Directors,

This letter is being sent to you by concerned parent leaders of Area C schools, including elementary, middle and high schools.  We received the proposed 2013-14 budget for our schools this week.  As you have a meeting Friday morning at 8:30 am to discuss this budget and determine whether to approve it or not, it is imperative that you understand the devastating effects this budget will have on our schools.  Though specific dollar amounts vary between our schools, the overall catastrophic issues are the same.  This budget puts our children's security at risk and significantly hinders our current academic programming.  In addition, the implied expectation to have parents fundraise and volunteer extensively to make up for a significant portion of a school's budget deficit is not practical or realistic.

Specifically, the budget that the District is proposing to the Board on Friday will:

 *Only cover teachers, specialists (prep providers), special education teachers, and  ESL teachers.

 *Result in the loss of multiple teachers in core subject areas at the high school level.  This will diminish academic rigor and exacerbate already severely overcrowded classrooms.

 *Significantly reduce the front line and office support staff who monitor public traffic and access to our school buildings. This puts the security or our children at risk and is totally unacceptable!

 *Reduce full day kindergarten classes to half day at most sites.  This alone will have a significantly negative impact on student achievement.

 *Eliminate trained mental health professionals as well as medical assistants and remedial assistants who ensure our children's mental and physical health are not compromised.

 *Eliminate the positions of testing coordinator, transportation coordinator, social worker, cafeteria and recess monitors, secretarial and office help, as well as operating expenses like school supplies, curriculum materials, and other needed items that allow a school to function efficiently and safely.

 Incalculable damage will result from this misguided budget--damage that will take untold time and expense to correct.  Each of you were elected to the Board of Directors of the Minneapolis Public Schools to ensure that all of our children have equal access to a quality education.  This budget will considerably hamper that effort.  More shockingly, this budget puts the safety and well being of our children at risk within the walls of our schools.

We strongly urge you to reject this proposed budget Friday morning.  We look to you for leadership in instructing the District to resubmit a budget that will allow our schools to function within a sustainable, safe, highly academic, and desirable educational system.

Sincerely,

Christa Anders

Southwest High School Foundation Chair

Southwest High School

 

Matt Allen

Site Council

Kenwood Community School

 

Lynn Barnhart

Foundation Chair

Site Council

Kenny Community School

 

Leslie Berger

Hale-Field Foundation President

Hale-Field Community Schools

 

Lisa Bierwagen

Site Council

Kenny Community School

Parent

Southwest High School

 

Cathy Brandt

PTA Member

Hale Community School

 

Caroline Cochran

Site Council Chair

Lake Harriet Community School

 

Mike Cronin

Site Council Co-Chair

Burroughs Community School

 

Ann Do

PTA Co-President

Site Council

Kenwood Community School

 

Mary Dolan

PTA Member

Burroughs Community School

 

Rebecca Dunn

Richard Dunn

Kenny Foundation

Site Council

Kenny Community School

 

Sonja Elias

Site Council

Kenwood Community School

 

Brad Ehalt

Site Council

Kenwood Community School

 

Jo Watson Gill

Steve Gill

Burroughs Community School

 

Kristi Granacher

Site Council

Kenwood Community School

 

Lois Hall

Site Council Co-Chair

Kenny Community School

 

Michael Hatting

Site Council

Burroughs Community School

 

Lori Johnson

PTA Co-President

Kenwood Community School

 

Dave Keepper

Site Council

Burroughs Community School

 

Karen Knapp

PTA Co-President

Lake Harriet Community School

 

Jenny Kriha

Site Council

Kenwood Community School

 

Nicole Lindberg

PTA President

Site Council

Kenny Community School

 

Kirsten Mair

PTSA Communications Chair

Former PTSA President

Southwest High School

 

Amy Marquardt

Site Council Co-Chair

Burroughs Community School

 

Brent Mastel

Parent of 3 MPS Students

Site Council

Teacher Grade 4

Kenny Community School

 

Bridget McGinnis

PTA Burroughs School

PTA Vice-President

Site Council

Ramsey Middle School

 

Theresa Pflieger

Kenny Foundation

Site Council

Kenny Community School

 

Allyssa Polack

Site Council Chair

Kenwood Community School

 

Melissa Panszi Riebe

PTA President

Burroughs Community School

 

Kelly Robbert

Site Council

Burroughs Community School

 

Jan Sadusky

PTA President

Ramsey Middle School

 

Ann Smith

PTA Co-President

Lake Harriet Community School

 

Gwen Spurgat

Site Council

Lake Harriet Community School

Parent

Southwest High School

 

Toni Tamm

Parent

Lake Harriet Lower Campus

 

Marc Thompson

Site Council

Armatage Montessori School

 

Margaret Thurer

Site Council

Kenwood Community School

 

Shari L. Wiggins

Site Council Parent

Associate Educator

Kenny Community School

 

Michael Wedl

Site Council Co-Chair

Field Community School