School budget cuts force bigger classes

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February 10, 2003 // UPDATED 4:35 pm - April 27, 2007
By: Caitlin Pine
Caitlin Pine

Minneapolis K-2 classes will get 16 percent bigger; Downtown

vo-tech programs might take financial hit

Citing a $28 million budget shortfall, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson and Chief Operating Officer David Jennings presented proposed cuts to the School Board in late January. The proposal cut salary costs, individual school funding, central administrative support and most noticeably, increased class size.

The plans assume that state funding -- 83 percent of the District's revenue -- will remain the same, despite a $356 million deficit through this June.

Class size

The plan would increase class sizes above those established in the 2001 school-funding referendum. Johnson's proposal raising K-2 classrooms from 19 to 22 students, 4th-8th grades from 25 to 28 and high school classes to over 30 per class.

However, Johnson did not increase 3rd-grade class sizes because of a district priority to improve that grade's reading and math skills. The state mandates basic skills tests at the end of 3rd grade, and rates schools on those test results.

Because of class size increases, the district estimates it will cut 208 teaching positions -- 73 K-2 teachers, 88 in 4th through 8th grades, 69 in 9th through 12th grades. The 208 positions cut are on top of 81 positions already being cut due to decreased enrollment.

In Downtown, vo-tech programs threatened

For high schools, another top challenge will be the cuts to vocational education programs -- which MPS now calls the Career and Technology department.

Minneapolis Community and Technical College, 1501 Hennepin Ave., and Dunwoody College of Technology, 818 Dunwoody Blvd., both offer college credit for classes they teach at area high schools. The two colleges receive small amounts of state funding to provide classes to high school students; however, further cuts in MPS' budget would affect the how many classes the two schools could offer.

MCTC teaches classes in project engineering, information technology, cosmetology and Dunwoody offers credit for automotive repair coursework. Roughly 250 students currently take these college classes.

In his Jan. 21 overview, Jennings estimated that MPS needed to cut the Career and Technology by 40 percent, but a week later, department director Craig Vana said cuts would likely be around 25 percent.

Johnson organized budget cuts according to MPS's highest priorities. State and federal laws limit district cuts to individual schools. The district can't cut compensatory aid (for schools with many students in poverty), or per-student special education funding.

That leaves impact aid (funds for smaller schools that don't receive state and federal dollars for poor students), vocational education and non-special-ed per-student funding.

With few options for cuts, reducing Career and Technology funds may harm MPS's priority of increasing high school graduation rates to 80 percent.

"We know that Career and Technology students attend school and graduate at a higher rate than other programs," said Vana. "Students value the approach of integrating academic knowledge with applied skills."

Vana is not only worried about keeping up with current programs, but also how MPS will be able to spot students' future needs.

The why and how of cuts

MPS officials lost money because enrollment declines cut state funding. District officials expected overall enrollment to drop, but saw 800 additional students leave for state-funded charter schools and other state-funded programs such as the K-12 Inter-district Downtown School. The district also lost revenue because students moved to suburban districts after a recent NAACP settlement.

David Heistad, the district's research director, said more kids aren't leaving for private schools.

The cuts in discretionary funding will keep schools without a lot of students in poverty from buying extra teacher hours or equipment.

Though it may seem illogical to give schools extra money because their students don't need special services, Gwen Jackson, MPS academic superintendent for grades K-5 said its necessary so small schools with little poverty can buy extra teacher hours or equipment. Schools with more kids in poverty can buy these things with their state and federal aid.

Johnson proposed that each elementary school have administrative leadership, clerical support, teachers, added staff for lunch and recess supervision, a health office, janitorial and a band or orchestra program.

Wendy Weimer, principal of Kenny Community School, 5720 Emerson Ave.

S., applauds setting a service floor. "If there's a tiny, through-the-key-hole sort of glimmer of hope for our small school, its that Superintendent Johnson has created some basic programs that each school must have," she said.

Principals and site councils at each will likely receive funding allocations in mid-March, so schools haven't started pouring over numbers just yet.

Principal Weimer said the budgeting process is always difficult, but cuts are especially hard after two years of them. "We cut in tiny amounts, so we can keep essentially the same programs," she said. "We'll cut one-tenth of one teacher's time in art, and then two-tenths in physical education and try to pull together tenths of teachers' time to create programs."

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget Tuesday, Feb. 11.