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Continued: Doors close on 4 Minneapolis schools

  • Article by: EMILY JOHNS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 23, 2009 - 6:16 AM

The Minneapolis school board on Tuesday unanimously approved a downsizing plan that will fundamentally shift how and where students go to school, a move district officials said was a necessary response to years of declining enrollment and multimillion-dollar deficits.

More than 200 people showed up at last night's meeting to voice concerns about the plan, which was 18 months in the making and will affect thousands of families. The district, with 32,000 students projected for this year, is the state's third largest, and this was its largest restructuring in years.

Under the plan, four schools will close, four magnet programs will become neighborhood schools, and parents will have fewer school choices, unless they want to drive their children to school. The plan originally also called for Pratt Community school to be closed, but the board saved the school with a last-minute amendment. The board also approved an amendment saying that students in the Harrison neighborhood, which will be in the district's northern zone, can attend high school in that zone or the southwestern zone.

Board members said constituents peppered them with thousands of e-mails, phone calls and petitions leading up to last night's vote. Two overflow rooms were needed to seat all those who attended.

"This really was an incredibly difficult process," board member Lydia Lee said after the vote was taken. "We've created a great deal of anger, frustration and pain."

Many in the audience, including Erin Oberdorfer, head of the parent-teacher organization at Emerson school, made a last-ditch plea to save a program or school. Oberdorfer went to bat for Emerson's dual Spanish-immersion program, which the plan placed in a different school.

"We've begged ... we've pleaded," Oberdorfer said. "We've done everything possible, and we feel like everyone else has gotten some concessions but us."

Gone is the citywide school choice system, a patchwork of magnet and community schools that developed over decades as a way to deal with federal and state integration laws. The Minneapolis school district currently transports 74 percent of its students to school, and spends $33 million on transportation every year as its buses criss-cross the city.

Under the downsizing plan, the city will be divided into three attendance zones, which make up the north, southwest and southeast parts of the city. The zones will dictate how students are assigned to schools. Up to one-fifth of the students in the district could by affected, and the district estimates it could save up to $8.2 million annually, the equivalent of about 100 teaching positions.

Most of the changes will go into effect for the 2010-11 school year, and at least one board member acknowledged that it may damage relations with some students and parents.

"We've been at this a very long time," board member T. Williams said. "Once we finish with this, we're going to have to do some healing within the district with our families."

He urged families to keep their children in the Minneapolis public schools, even if they are dissatisfied with the plan.

"If you take your kids out of our schools, the schools will not get better and we will be going through a similar process soon," he said. "Don't leave us now."

The plan is meant to save money on transportation by keeping students closer to home, focusing resources on academic magnet programs that can stay true to their mission and redirecting money into the classroom.

The way things are now, in some neighborhoods students are bused to more than 30 different schools all over the city. The new plan would give students a community school option, at least three magnet schools in their zone and several citywide options.

Minneapolis closed five North Side schools two years ago and pledged to offer beefed-up programs at the remaining schools. Superintendent Bill Green has said that in some respects, the downsizing plan continues that work in the rest of the city.

What the plan means:

• Students assigned to citywide programs for special education or English-learning will still receive transportation. Students in magnet, middle or high schools outside of their attendance area or zone will be guaranteed a spot in their current school, but their parents have to provide transportation.

• Longfellow Community School, Folwell Middle School and Park View Montessori at Bryn Mawr will close. Northrop Urban Environmental School, Cityview, Kenwood and Pillsbury will lose their magnet status.

• The district will house a K-5 Spanish-immersion school at Windom. The immersion program at Emerson will move to the Anwatin/Bryn Mawr site. Anwatin/Bryn Mawr will also house Spanish immersion and an International Baccalaureate program for grades six through eight for students from Emerson and Windom as well as students from the Bryn Mawr and Bethune attendance areas. Anwatin Middle School will close, but students will be phased out over two years instead of closing immediately.

• The city's 11 "open" attendance areas -- parts of the city that don't have a community school, such as those in the Kingfield neighborhood of southwest Minneapolis -- will receive them.

• International Baccalaureate programs will be expanded so they're available for students in grades K-12 in all three zones.

Emily Johns • 612-673-7460

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