Minneapolis Public Schools’ final redistricting proposal would reduce the number of magnet schools and relocate them to the center of the city, decrease the number of segregated schools and uproot fewer students than originally projected.

The Comprehensive District Design plan, released Friday, would upend the state’s third-largest school district with redrawn attendance boundaries and other major changes to take effect in the 2021-22 school year. The redistricting is meant to address racial disparities, a nagging achievement gap and an anticipated budget deficit of nearly $20 million.

“We don’t believe our students can afford to wait any longer. And we have to act now to set the conditions for their success,” Superintendent Ed Graff said.

The existing alignment of the district has led to more segregated schools, and schools on the North Side have worse outcomes. District leaders say the proposal will help achieve better racial balance and avoid the potential shuttering of under-enrolled schools.

While most parents agree a major overhaul is needed, many have pushed back on the plan. They say the district has offered few details on how the systemwide reshuffling, which could disrupt many students and educators, would address the achievement gap. And they argue that some of the more significant proposals emerged late in the process and deserve more scrutiny.

This debate is likely to intensify leading up to the final school board vote, scheduled for April 28 despite objections from parents who worry the final plan will receive little pushback amid an unprecedented virus disruption.

Moving magnets

Under the final CDD proposal, the district would have 11 magnets instead of 14. Popular magnets such as open education, urban environmental and international baccalaureate would be done away with 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 — would lose their magnet status. Six community schools — Bethune, Franklin, Sullivan, Green, Anderson and Jefferson — would become magnets.

The reshuffling would move many magnets to larger buildings, adding about 1,000 more seats for students who want to enroll in the schools, said Eric Moore, the district’s chief of accountability, research and equity.

The district estimates it will save roughly $7 million in transportation costs per year with the restructuring, based on the bus routes needed to support modeled enrollment. Those savings will help fund academic programs and other operating costs. District leaders also expect magnet school improvements to carry a capital cost of $6.5 million over the next five years.

K-8 schools would be reduced but not eliminated, with Sullivan and Jefferson maintaining the grade configuration.

District officials say there will be enough seats for students enrolled in dual language immersion schools, a claim that has drawn skepticism from many number-crunching parents.

The final district plan keeps these programs at Sheridan and Emerson elementary schools while relocating two others from Windom elementary and Anwatin Middle School to Green elementary and Andersen middle school.

Changes to high schools

High school students would not have to change schools under the plan. Proposed boundary changes would take effect in 2021 with incoming ninth-graders. High schools in north Minneapolis would gain a significant number of students, according to recent enrollment projections, while south-side schools would shrink and become less diverse.

The district would centralize its career and technical education (CTE) programs at three “citywide” sites: North, Edison and Roosevelt high schools. These courses teach skills ranging from engineering and robotics to welding and agriculture. The capital cost of creating these three CTE hubs would total nearly $26 million over five years, according to the district.

Reshaping the district would shuffle fewer students to new schools than originally thought, officials say, while cutting the number of “racially isolated” schools from 20 to eight. Racially isolated schools have more than 80% of students belonging to one group.

While the district once said 63% of students would change schools, it now projects about 15% of K-8 students experiencing a one-time transition, in addition to the 21% of students who switch schools each year.

Officials say their initial projection of 63% came months ago, before they modeled the relocation of magnet schools, and accounted for the percentage of students who change schools annually for any given reason. Their final proposal also gives some students the option to stay put by reserving seats for those enrolled in community schools that would become magnets and magnets that would get a new education focus.

“We always intended for that number to be much lower,” Moore said.

What lies ahead

Leaders expect 400 students to leave the district in each of the first two years of the reshuffling. That would bring their anticipated student loss in the 2021-22 school year to 1,200, officials said, while noting they think the losses would eventually level off and enrollment would tick back up.

“We believe that we will be able to stabilize things for our students and families and staff in the district,” Graff said.

School board Member KerryJo Felder, who represents the North Side, was “really disappointed” with the final proposal. She had drawn up her own redesign plan — with input from North Side families and teachers — that would have reconfigured Cityview elementary into a K-8 and brought trade programs to North High School and a Spanish immersion magnet to Nellie Stone Johnson elementary. The district’s final proposal makes none of those changes.

“It’s hurtful that they didn’t do the work that they were supposed to do,” Felder said.

Felder also urged the district and her fellow school board members to not move forward with a vote during the COVID-19 pandemic that has confined many families to their homes. The district is tentatively aiming for an April 14 school board discussion on the final plan, with a vote to follow on April 28.

Gov. Tim Walz has ordered all Minnesotans to stay at home unless absolutely necessary until at least April 10 to slow the virus’ spread. The governor also ordered public schools across the state to stay closed until May 4.

“We can’t deny our parents valuable input,” Felder said. “Even if they’re mad at us, they deserve to be mad at us and they deserve for us to hear them.”

 

Twitter: @ryanfaircloth