The board's vote is the first step in a process that could lead city schools to drop out of the metro area's oldest voluntary integration effort.
Third-graders Curtis Hatcher, left, and Kashawn Pierce read Tuesday at the FAIR school, operated by the West Metro Education Program, in Minneapolis. FAIR schools were started to promote integration across school district lines.
Minneapolis schools have taken the first formal step toward pulling out of the metro area's oldest voluntary integration effort, but school leaders say they still might change their minds.
Concerned about whether the program's two schools achieve their goals, the school board voted Tuesday to give notice of withdrawal from the West Metro Education Program (WMEP) before a Feb. 1 deadline. That's required under the program's rules if the board decides after more study to leave after the next school year.
WMEP, a cooperative of 10 suburban districts and Minneapolis, formed in 1989. It operates two schools, in downtown Minneapolis and Crystal, that promote racial integration across district lines. It also conducts teacher training and student programs intended to improve intercultural skills.
The pullout notice is designed to preserve the district's options while it studies whether the two integration district schools (known as FAIR) foster integration and student achievement. A pullout decision likely would be made by next fall when families begin choosing schools for 2013-2014.
"We don't know where it's going to go," said board Chairman Alberto Monserrate. "We will actually take the time and look at this in a thoughtful way."
The Minneapolis action raises questions about whether the two schools would continue without Minneapolis and whether city students would stay in them. It also comes at a time of metro-wide uncertainty about racial integration. A task force is studying how to replace the current metro interdistrict integration efforts, which the state will end in mid-2013.
"Giving a notice like this is destabilizing," Theresa Harris, a parent of two FAIR students, said before the vote. She urged board members to conduct the study before giving notice of their intent to withdraw.
Kevin Bennett, principal of the WMEP' two arts-focused schools, expressed confidence that parents would stick with the schools even if Minneapolis opts out. So did WMEP's board chairwoman, Helen Bassett, a Robbinsdale school board member, noting that state aid follows where students enroll.
The board tiptoed up to a pullout once before, in 2009, when former Superintendent Bill Green declared that the two schools had failed to produce the integration sought. But the board tabled the idea after parents and groups supporting integration efforts opposed a pullout.
The Star Tribune reported in 2007 that a majority of students going to the suburban school from Minneapolis were white and most suburban students coming downtown were minorities, the opposite of what was supposed to happen.
Since then, the schools have been reconfigured under a common principal, with K-3 students starting downtown, going to Crystal for grades 4-8, and then returning downtown for high school.
The two schools are attended by 1,052 students. The suburban FAIR is 56.5 percent white; the downtown school is 63 percent minority. Bennett said 94 percent of FAIR's mostly minority third-graders tested as proficient in reading last year.
The school board's resolution states that it remains committed to integration but aims to conserve its money by backing strategies that best achieve social and academic equity.