Minneapolis schools shift to growth mode

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 25, 2013 - 11:50 AM

As enrollment rises, the district plans to reopen and expand schools, shuffle programs and add an arts high school. Discussion will follow.

 

A sweeping reshuffling of students and rebuilding of Minneapolis schools is being proposed to make the district more competitive and to handle an expected surge in enrollment.

The proposal could affect about one in every four students, either by shifting the school they attend or the academic program they’re taught. It would require the district to borrow an estimated $155 million for construction, mostly to renovate existing schools.

The plan is designed to accommodate enrollment gains over the next four school years, when the district is expected to grow by about 3,400 students, half of them in southwest Minneapolis, where space for high school students is especially tight. That’s about 10 percent growth.

“This is a very complex plan. It is going to get a lot of discussion,” board chairman Alberto Monserrate said before Tuesday night’s board meeting, where the proposal was presented. The next step will be seeking community reaction, which he said will be important before the board acts later this fall.

Changes could occur across the city and include adding middle-school capacity in the eastern half of south Minneapolis. Among the highlights are a proposal for an audition-only performing arts high school; additions to Southwest High School and Seward Montessori; the reopening of Webster and an expanded Cooper school, plus the return of Franklin Middle School and Tuttle to district use.

The space recommendations are accompanied by multiple changes in programs that are intended to make the district’s schools more appealing to parents, according to Michael Goar, the district’s chief executive officer.

“We are in a highly competitive environment, and we need to do better,” he said in an interview.

Data suggest that the district currently enrolls about 62 percent of the city’s school-age children who attend public school, with the balance in charter or suburban districts.

Growth strategy is a change

The proposal comes as enrollment has grown for the third year in a row, giving the Minneapolis district a chance to plan in a growth mode rather than reacting to shrinkage, as it has since 2000. Although kindergarten enrollment was down this year, an enrollment bulge is nearing the district’s high schools, especially in the southwest corner of the city.

The district’s growth strategy is long on renovation and does not involve building new schools, although it would expand three. That could serve the district well if enrollment trends reverse after 2017, the furthest out it has made projections. The district built four large K-8 schools on the North Side in the late 1990s, just before enrollment tanked there.

Although the enrollment increase is biggest in southwest Minneapolis, where parents have remained most loyal to the district, more North Side and Northeast students would see a change in their attendance patterns, based in part on shifting patterns for feeder schools that incorporate Franklin Middle School and program changes. Under one major proposal, incoming students enrolling from the downtown core would be shifted away from a path toward southwest schools and toward northeast choices and eventually Edison High School.

The proposal also includes changes designed to accommodate the district’s younger students. Early childhood programs would expand, creating 500 spaces that take advantage of new state scholarships aimed at low-income parents of preschoolers. The proposal also would make all-day kindergarten available at the five remaining southwest schools that lack it.

The next step will be community reaction sessions in mid-October. The proposal would return to the board later this fall for a vote.

Some room to borrow

Rebecca Gagnon, a school board member from southwest Minneapolis, has been prodding the district to add capacity for high school students there. The proposal would add 450 spots by expanding Southwest, another 200 by creating a combined campus for Washburn High School and Ramsey Middle School, and 500 more at the citywide performing arts high school proposed for the Wilder school building.

“It’ll be interesting to see their funding stream for this. I’m not really ready to buy into anything until you tell me we can pay for it,” Gagnon said. A budget proposal advanced by the district’s finance staff seeks to spend $40 million annually for the next several years to finance a capital improvement program, atop an existing repair and renovation program.

  • Minneapolis SCHOOLS: PROPOSED CHANGES

    Expansions: Space added to Southwest High, Seward Montessori and a K-8 school at a reopened Cooper.

    New programs: Audition-entrance performing arts high school at Wilder building. Grade 6-12 campus at Ramsey Middle School-Washburn High School. All-day kindergarten at Barton, Burroughs, Kenny, Hale, Lake Harriet. New Somali immigrant-focused introductory school at Sullivan. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) at Cityview and Wilder. First-generation college prep program for grades 9-16 at Tuttle. Community school and Spanish immersion program split at Sheridan. Beefed-up media-communications program and possible second program at North. Howe and Sanford Middle school share space and programs.

    Renovations: Sheridan, North High, Hiawatha, Wilder and near the Davis Center for early childhood education expansion. At 2225 E. Lake St. (Brown building) for Transition Plus program for older special ed students and some adult basic education students. At Franklin for reopened middle school.

    Moves: Shifts Pierre Bottineau French Immersion to Cityview. Broadway teen mother program to North. Mastery charter school to Lincoln. Transition Plus to 2225 E. Lake St. and Longfellow.

    Grade change: Lucy Laney from K-8 to K-5, feeding with Bethune to Franklin.

    Feeder change: Downtown students shift from southwest schools to northeast schools. Spanish immersion programs at Emerson, Windom and Sheridan feed to Anwatin Middle/Roosevelt High School. New Northside Achievement Zone attendance area.

    STEVE BRANDT

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