In an error-filled April 25 opinion piece (“Minneapolis school board can and must do better on budget issues”), a number of former school board members criticize the current board for protecting critical funding in Minneapolis middle and high schools.
The board made the right decision for students, schools and the district.
As part of a plan to erase a $33 million deficit for next school year, the Minneapolis Public Schools proposed removing $6.4 million solely from middle and high schools, on top of the 2 to 2.5 percent budget cuts sustained by most schools. The proposal required middle and high schools to shoulder a full 20 percent of the deficit on their own. Some were told to slash over 12 percent of their budgets, more than six times what most schools were facing. Almost $1.9 million was being pulled from Patrick Henry High School alone.
Although the $6.4 million cut was proposed in good faith under difficult circumstances, it simply proved too much for middle and high schools to bear in combination with other reductions. Teachers, counselors, mental health supports, academic programming, building security — as well as enrollment and community support — would have drained away precipitously next school year.
So, on April 10, the board voted to keep the $6.4 million in Minneapolis middle and high schools. It was the right choice.
Middle and high schools still face the same cuts all schools in the district do, but the disparate damage has been prevented. Rather than emptying their buildings, schools are able to retain scores of talented staff who already know their students. Academic and mental health supports, services for students most in need, and building security are being restored. Principals are reversing deep programming cuts that threatened to hollow out schools and sever bonds between students and their learning environments.
The board took particular care to ensure that the restored funds benefited the district’s diverse student population citywide. The funding protects 13,000 students in 17 schools in literally every corner of Minneapolis. Some 59.5 percent of those students qualified this year for free or reduced-price lunch, matching the districtwide percentage. Almost 68 percent are students of color, compared with a districtwide percentage of 65 percent. And the restored funding is derived from general per-pupil revenue and then distributed on a per-pupil basis, ensuring that larger schools can absorb the increased cost of serving more students.
When the restored funding is combined with other school allocations, the total per-pupil amount provided each high school continues to reflect the varying needs of different schools. The total per-pupil amount for 2018-19 varies widely by high school, from $7,200 per pupil (Washburn) to over $14,000 per pupil.
The board protected this vital school funding while remaining committed to fiscal responsibility. The board is not touching MPS reserves or adding to what will still be over $14 million in cuts to schools. Instead, the $6.4 million stays in school budgets with a combination of offset measures, including new revenue, deferred spending, contract savings, consolidation of administrative functions and reductions to central office budgets. To be certain, all cuts are painful, but Superintendent Ed Graff and his leadership team took extraordinary care to fortify school budgets through equitable measures.
Finally, the board’s decision was considered and well-informed. The April 10 vote came after months of board engagement around various budget proposals. And at the April board meeting, students, parents and teachers from all over the city provided powerful testimony about how the budget cuts would negatively affect students most in need and destabilize schools.
We know there is still a great deal of work to do ahead. We are committed to working to pass the upcoming referendum and advocate at the Legislature to ensure full funding of our schools and success for all students.
Diana Benjaafar is site council co-chair at Washburn High School. This article was also submitted on behalf of Graham Kirwin, student, Patrick Henry High School; Ethan Buss, student, Washburn High School; Farhiya Farah, parent, Washburn High School; Ann Smith, parent, Southwest Senior High School; Steve Richter, site council co-chair, South High School, and Alison Criss, teacher, the FAIR School.