Minneapolis school board keeps Southwest addition alive in plans to add classes

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 11, 2013 - 5:36 AM

Busy school board allows plan to add to Southwest High School’s capacity and tries to improve discipline while limiting suspensions.

The Minneapolis school board on Tuesday adopted plans to add new classrooms, improve student discipline and keep tax revenues steady for 2014.

The busy board meeting also saw a divided vote approving the long-delayed sale of a North Side school and the seating of a new school board member, Mohamud Noor, who took the oath of office administered by his second-grade son, Jama Ahmed. Noor fills the seat vacated when Hussein Samatar died.

The $222 million enrollment plan adopted Tuesday affects some 10,500 students, or almost one-third of district enrollment. It’s designed to handle a 3,400-student bulge forecast to increase district enrollment by about 10 percent through 2017.

The classroom crunch is most severe in the city’s southwest corner, where administrators have proposed multiple measures for relief. The most controversial plan was a 450-student addition at Southwest High School costing $40 million, but no other board member supported a proposal by Carla Bates to table that plan and another proposal to add capacity at Washburn High School and adjoining Ramsey Middle School by sharing classes and teachers.

Board Member Rebecca Gagnon said that southwest schools are getting the most enrollment expansion because the last board expanded boundaries and because 80 percent of students there chose the district over other high school options. In the city’s northern third, some 70 percent of students choose nondistrict high schools, she said. Bates unsuccessfully argued for delaying decisions on Southwest and Washburn until the district equalizes the quality of its high schools.

The enrollment plan also means additions for Seward Montessori, Sanford Middle School and Cooper Elementary, plus reopening Cooper, Webster and Cityview elementaries as well as Franklin Middle School.

The plan contains an estimated $143 million in building costs, plus $79 million in added costs, mainly for staff, to run new or expanding programs over several years. Adding enrollment will bring more student aid from the state.

The five-year plan also adds air conditioning to more schools after a rough start to the school year in which a wave of record heat struck the district when it opened a week before Labor Day. Schools that will get new or completed cooling systems over the next few years are: Edison and Henry high schools, Sanford Middle School, and Hall, Loring, Bancroft, Armatage and Jefferson schools. That will still leave about 20 schools without air conditioning.

The new discipline policy is intended to keep order in schools, while suspending students only as a last resort. It emphasizes continual teaching of behavior standards, techniques to reconcile offenders and victims, and other measures to avoid suspensions.

The board also sold the shuttered Shingle Creek Elementary in the city’s far northwestern corner to Minnetonka Funding Group LLC, which had abruptly withdrawn an offer earlier this fall for the same amount.

It’s at least the third offer for the school, and down considerably from a $1.175 million offer the board rejected. last spring. District officials said the KIPP charter school has committed to lease the school after renovations. The deal saves the district $280,000 in demolition costs for a 1958 building that closed in 2007.

The board also set a $171.9 million property tax levy for 2014, which is the maximum allowed by the state and represents no increase from this year. Finance staff members have told the board that a flat levy in 2014 will require a 3 percent tax increase in 2015 to offset income lost to the no-increase policy in 2014. The 2014 tax levy will provide about 24 percent of this school year’s projected district income.

 

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: @brandtstrib

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