The fiery debate over the future of Minneapolis Public Schools is now over, with the school board’s approval of a major restructuring plan that will radically reshape the state’s third-largest school district.
Over the next few years, Minneapolis Public Schools will redraw its attendance boundaries and relocate magnet schools to the center of the city in an attempt to distribute resources more equitably and end a yearslong cycle of budget deficits. Major changes won’t take effect until at least the 2021-22 school year.
Thousands of students will have to change schools, and the district will invest hundreds of millions of dollars into sweeping system changes over the next five years. The Comprehensive District Design, approved last week, will give the district its first face-lift in more than a decade.
The district’s current structure has led to more segregated schools and worse outcomes for students on the city’s North Side; most magnet schools and popular academic programs are clustered in south Minneapolis. Leaders say their plan will help curb declining enrollment, reduce race and class segregation and set the district up to be more financially sustainable. The district anticipates a nearly $20 million budget shortfall for the coming school year.
The plan was met with significant opposition from many Minneapolis families and teachers. Critics remain skeptical about the redesign, which they believe will cause major upheaval across the city that will lead to further enrollment decline.
The district will have 11 magnet schools instead of 14 once the restructuring occurs. Popular magnets such as open education, urban environmental and international baccalaureate will be cut in favor of new programs focusing on global studies and humanities and science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Eight schools — Barton, Dowling, Folwell, Bancroft, Whittier, Windom, Anwatin and Armatage — will lose their magnet status. Six community schools — Bethune, Franklin, Sullivan, Green, Andersen and Jefferson — will become magnets.
The reshuffling will move many magnets into larger buildings, adding about 1,000 more seats for students who want to enroll in the schools.
The number of K-8 schools, a popular choice for parents who want to keep siblings together, will be reduced from eight to two, with Jefferson and Sullivan maintaining the grade configuration and others reconfigured to serve either grades K-5 or 6-8.
Dual-language immersion magnets at Sheridan and Emerson elementary schools will stay put, while those at Windom elementary and Anwatin Middle School will move to Green elementary and Andersen Middle School.
Career and technical education (CTE) programs will be centralized at three “citywide” sites: North, Edison and Roosevelt high schools. These courses teach skills ranging from engineering and robotics to welding and agriculture.
How much will it cost?
The district estimates its comprehensive redesign will cost $11.5 million in the first year of implementation, with ongoing operating costs totaling about $11 million annually. Ongoing costs will be covered by $4.5 million in integration funds and nearly $7 million in yearly transportation savings; district leaders estimate they can reduce the number of daily bus routes from 159 to 107. Each bus route costs $120,000 annually.
Restructuring the district will require significant capital investment over the next five years. Capital projects for the comprehensive redesign will cost $142 million, including $34 million for magnet school improvements, $33 million for the centralization of CTE courses and $75 million to strengthen community schools. District officials estimate an additional $285 million in capital costs for other districtwide needs and long-term facility maintenance. The total five-year capital plan will cost $427 million.
Families and teachers have questioned whether the district can afford these changes. District spokeswoman Julie Schultz Brown said the capital plan will be paid for with general obligation bonds, certificates of participation and long-term facilities maintenance bonding. And she said the district is “not planning on additional budget deficits” after the restructuring.
Student populations shift
Thousands of students will have to change schools once boundaries shift and magnets are relocated. The district estimates 15% of K-8 students will experience a one-time transition, on top of the roughly 21% of Minneapolis students who switch schools annually for any given reason. Current high school students will not have to change schools once boundary changes take effect.
High schools in north Minneapolis are poised to gain a significant number of students, district enrollment projections show, while south-side schools will shrink and become less diverse. North High School will swell from 361 students to 1,138, while Southwest High School will drop from 1,903 students to 1,203. That’s because Southwest will lose a large swath of its attendance zone to North High.
The number of “racially isolated” schools will decrease from 20 to eight, the district estimates. It defines racially isolated schools as having 86% or more students of color, and projects two additional schools — Burroughs and Kenny — will be racially isolated the other way, having 86% or more white students.
High-poverty schools, where more than 80% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, are projected to decrease from 13 to eight. Under-enrolled schools, which operate at less than 60% of their student capacity, will drop from 16 to 13. And over-enrolled schools, which operate above 100% of their student capacity, will decrease from 16 to four, the district says.
Leaders project 1,200 students will leave the district in the first two years of the redesign, said Eric Moore, district chief of accountability, research and equity. Officials believe losses will level off and enrollment will tick back up.
When will changes occur?
Boundary shifts, magnet relocations and other major changes are slated to take effect in the 2021-22 school year. But school board chairwoman Kim Ellison recently told the Star Tribune that implementation could be delayed because of the pandemic.
“Maybe it takes 18 months, 24 months to implement during a pandemic,” Ellison said.
With the help of teachers, a district steering committee will soon develop a school climate framework. Staff will also examine if the district’s bell times can be reduced to eliminate more bus routes and reinvest the money into academics.
“It’s several years of implementation, several years of work, and we certainly know that it will be one that requires a great deal of attention and monitoring and engagement from everyone involved,” Superintendent Ed Graff said.