Some parents and activists pushed back against a new proposal to cut millions of dollars from the Minneapolis school district’s central office to balance the budget, arguing that it disproportionately affects low-income students and children of color.
About 100 people carrying “Is this equity?” and “Reverse the $6.4 million budget resolution” signs packed a heated school board meeting Tuesday night and demanded that the board rescind its earlier decision and return to the original budget plan.
Faced with pressure from Southwest and Washburn high school parents, Minneapolis school board members recently voted to restore $6.4 million in cuts to middle schools and high schools and directed district administrators to downsize the central office instead.
“The central office provides the equity support and accountability for the entire district,” said Kenneth Eban, managing director of Students for Education Reform Minnesota. The board’s decision is a “dangerous slippery slope, and consistently comes at the expense of black and brown students,” he said.
An online petition signed by more than 400 people was presented to Superintendent Ed Graff at Tuesday night’s board meeting. The petition asks the board to return to the original budget, saying the restored funding fails to address the structural problems dogging the district and harms the achievement of students of color.
The state’s third-largest school system is facing a contentious budget battle, brought on by mounting costs and declining enrollment. To wipe out the $33 million shortfall, the district’s plan includes an $18.4 million reduction in the central office and a nearly $15 million trim to school allocations.
Graff, who spoke against the recent resolution to restore the $6.4 million to schools before it passed, said his team is running out of time and is not ready to redo the budget.
“I ask the board that we don’t come back tomorrow or next month and say we want you to change it again,” Graff said at a budget study session Monday. “We have done our due diligence.”
Amid mounting pressure from the public, Graff announced that the district was going to save the expulsion office — once on the chopping block — thanks to $568,000 retrieved from a dissolving partnership with St. Joseph’s Home for Children, a residential treatment facility for at-risk youth who have been removed from their homes by police and social workers. A portion of that money, district officials said, will be used to fund that office, which makes sure children of color are not unfairly disciplined. The role of the expulsion office will be merged with the academics office over the course of the next school year.
Meanwhile, the new round of cuts means reducing special education funding by $1.7 million, slashing funds for athletic director positions at every school, transferring middle school athletics to community education, and eliminating support staff for athletics districtwide.
The transportation office took nearly $500,000 in cuts. The innovation office, which worked to identify and pilot new practices across the district and supported academic achievement for students, has been shuttered. The district also has reduced the number of its associate superintendents to three, down from six at one point. That means less individualized support for the 70-plus schools and programs, and less coaching for principals, district officials said.
“That’s a ratio that I have never seen in my experience as a superintendent,” Graff said.
The Office of Black Male Student Achievement, which works to close the widening achievement gap between white and black students, took a nearly $100,000 hit. The office, established five years ago, offers mentorship programs and improves participation in advanced courses, among other duties.
Board Member Kim Ellison, who opposed the resolution to restore the $6.4 million funding, said she has been fielding calls from concerned parents and schools.
She said the new list of cuts will threaten the function of services that serve minority students and that the board should consider going back to the original budget. The resolution, she said, only favors Southwest and Washburn high schools, which have the smallest percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.
“Our students that need it the most are students who come into our buildings with not many resources at home,” she said.
Emily Flower pulled her son out of the district after she learned of the board’s vote. “The poorest kids in the poorest neighborhoods have been hit the hardest while affluent families are given passes and extra funds,” said Flower, whose son will start at New City charter school in the fall.
Tamara Rusnacko, chair of the Edison High activities council, said the school system’s funding formula emphasizes equality but not equity.
“If they don’t understand the difference between equity and equality, they don’t belong on the school board,” she said.