Howls of protest over proposed budget cuts are beginning to hit the Minneapolis school board as more than half of the city’s schools find out that preliminary numbers show them getting less money next year.
The reaction hit the board Friday morning when a usually lightly attended meeting of its finance committee drew about 40 parents, many of them from southwest Minneapolis schools.
The board won’t act on the budget proposal until June, but got its first deep look at that budget proposal. The timing was unusual because the board usually goes over the budget in some detail before preliminary allocations are sent to principals and shared with school councils. But the preliminary numbers went out last Monday.
So the board got the blowback before the budget details. Committee chair Rebecca Gagnon said she’d gotten some 700 e-mails from parents protesting what the numbers mean for their schools.
At Lake Harriet Community School, parent leaders described the cuts as catastrophic, affecting such resources as the social worker, psychologist, recess monitors and testing help. “Bottom line, Last year’s budget was bare bones. This budget is not feasible,” they told parents in a letter.
Tom McCulloch, a member of Hale Community School’s site council, told the board that cuts are “much more painful” this year, possibly $209,973. “What I struggle with is they want a plan from us in two weeks,” he said. “The public schools are being stripped down so much.”
The school-level budgets showed 28 schools getting less money next year and 26 getting more. Lake Harriet’s lower (kindergarten through second grade) campus would get $1 million more but the upper campus (grades three through eight) would get $869,345 less, the largest cut of any school serving elementary or middle grades.
The main culprit in these straitened circumstances is the district’s goal to balance its spending with its income. The current year’s budget siphoned $18 million from the district’s budget surplus, an unsustainable course. The budget gap was projected at $24 million for the upcoming year.
Finance Chief Robert Doty has told credit rating agencies that the district would balance its budget for 2014. He had recommended a 7.4 percent property tax increase for 2014 to help do so, but the board imposed a 4 percent levy hike instead, forgoing $3.9 million.
Cuts to central office, schools
The proposed budget fills that gap with cuts in the central office accomplished by cutting more than 46 jobs, restructuring operations and cutting building operation costs. It also shifts some spending planned for next year to this year, and anticipates more state aid. More job cuts are expected at the school level.
The district didn’t provide a comparison of its current budget with the new one. The $527.8 million proposal sends nearly 57 percent of spending directly to schools, but Doty said centrally budgeted spending for schools effectively raises that to at least 76 percent.
The total budget is actually $900,000 less than this year’s revenue. One factor is that the district is gaining elementary students and losing high school students. Elementary students bring in less per-student aid than high school students. Actual school-level allocations are determined by a variety of factors, including enrollment, adding or dropping programs, gaining or losing grants.
Board members spent much of Friday’s session trying to assure parents they’ll listen to their concerns, even reviving a citizen member budget committee that’s been out of commission for at least three years.