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Mpls. delays plan to close schools, redraw boundaries

  • Article by: PATRICE RELERFORD
  • Star Tribune
  • May 7, 2009 - 1:41 PM

Recognizing a lack of support from school board members, Minneapolis school district officials announced Wednesday that they will revise a downsizing plan that would have closed four school buildings and redrawn elementary school boundaries.

Superintendent Bill Green also said the May 26 vote the board had scheduled on the plan will be postponed, as will the community meetings the district scheduled this month with parents.

The long-awaited plan was unveiled at a school board meeting April 28 and would have affected an estimated one-third of the district's 32,500 students. The district has had several years of declining enrollments and faces a $28 million deficit.

Board chair Tom Madden described the plan as "DOA" or "dead on arrival" during a working session of the board Tuesday night.

"Last night was a big success in my mind," Madden said Wednesday. "We would have been voting on May 26, and it would have failed. I was hopeful going in and very pleased coming out."

Madden and other board members, including Carla Bates and Pam Costain, said the plan lacked school boundary maps as well as clear pathways from elementary to secondary schools.

They also said the plan would disproportionately affect students of color and give students disproportionate access to magnet schools, depending on where they live.

"These are big issues that are not only preventing people from being on board with the plan but from being excited about it," Madden said during the work session.

More deliberation

In a statement issued Wednesday, Green said a new timeline for introducing a revised plan likely will be unveiled in the next week.

He said district leaders are "in the process of studying the potential impacts of the [school] board's ideas. Because these decisions are complex and critical, the process of analyzing the impact of different ideas requires time and careful deliberation."

Board members also questioned closing Pratt Community School and relocating Northrop Urban Environmental School to the larger Folwell Middle School site, after it closes.

Pratt is in southeast Minneapolis near the University of Minnesota and is the district's smallest school with fewer than 180 students. Northrop and Pratt are both K-5 elementary schools.

Board Member Chris Stewart questioned closing small schools, such as Pratt, that have been successful with low-income students as opposed to larger schools that aren't faring well.

The district has eight elementary schools-- many of them large -- that are restructuring or preparing to restructure under federal law due to low performance.

"I want to say I'm sick of worrying about Pratt every two years," Stewart said.

Said parent Becky Sun: "I'm relieved that they're reconsidering whether to close Pratt, but I won't breathe a sigh of relief until it's all over and Pratt is still open. I'm optimistic, but I'm not going to say it's all over until it's in print."

Costain urged the administration to draft a plan that is more specific about open attendance areas. She said the district should consider a proposal from families in the Kingfield/East Lake Harriet neighborhood to link Barton Open and Lyndale elementary schools as a K-8 campus and make it their community school. It could mean Barton Open's program moves to Ramsey Fine Arts School.

Said Madden: "They're trying to assess the changes [we suggested] and the ramifications of that and what that does to the timeline."

Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395

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