Minneapolis Public Schools releases survey around budget

Minneapolis Public Schools leaders are asking community members to take a “values” survey as they grapple with a projected $33 million budget deficit for 2018–2019.

The survey asks community members to rank the six goals in the district’s strategic plan, Acceleration 2020, in their preferred order of importance. It also asks them which programs and services they’d like to see the district prioritize in terms of allocating resources.

The district hopes to get feedback from more than 3,000 people, Superintendent Ed Graff said at the Oct. 10 School Board meeting.

“It really is a way to try and capture some of those values out in the public,” Graff said of the survey.

Graff announced the projected $33 million budget shortfall for 2018–2019 earlier this fall. District leaders are attributing the projected deficit in part to the inflationary costs of annual salary increases and associated increases in salary benefits. The district also expects this school year’s $16.5 million deficit to continue into 2018–2019.

District leaders managed a projected $28 million deficit for 2017–2018 with a 10-percent cut to central services and a 2.5-percent cut to school allocations. In June, the School Board gave district leaders authorization to use up to $16.5 million in reserves, or fund balance, to cover the remaining deficit. However, Graff has said his team is trying to find efficiencies and manage vacancies so they don’t have to use that entire amount.

The use of fund balance is off the table for 2018-19, however. The district’s fund balance has dipped below the School Board-mandated minimum of 8 percent of the district’s operating budget. It’s projected to dip further below the board-mandated minimum this year.

The district would risk going into statutory operating debt if it used fund balance again in 2018-19.

Graff and his team haven’t committed to any program changes or staff reductions at this point. At the Sept. 28 School Board Finance Committee meeting, Graff laid out expenditures that district leaders have prioritized over the past few years, such as class-size ratios, additional school days and seven-period days for middle schools and high schools.

On Oct. 10, Graff asked board members if they had any priorities when it came to those “big-ticket” items. Most board members didn’t offer specifics but rather stated the values they’d like to see incorporated into the budget, such as transparency and equity.

“My takeaway is we’re going to move forward with a survey,” Graff said after the discussion. “… And then my takeaway is that we aren’t really limiting the conversation to saying ‘no’ to these things. We’re really just putting it out there and trying to get as much feedback as possible.”

Graff’s goal is to balance the district’s budget by the 2019-20 school year.

The survey window is scheduled to close Nov. 10, according to Julie Schultz Brown, the district’s executive director of marketing & communications. A draft report of the findings for district leadership is scheduled for Nov. 29.

Visit mpls.k12.mn.us/mps_budget for more information on the district’s budget and mpls.k12.mn.us/get_involved_4 to learn how to get involved in school budgeting.