Minneapolis Public Schools chose two new leaders Tuesday, appointing Rochelle Cox as the interim superintendent and picking Cynthia Booker to fill a vacant at-large school board seat.
Cox, who is an associate superintendent in the district, will take over as the district's leader on July 1. She will receive a $230,000 salary and an additional $450 monthly allowance to use her private vehicle for work, according to the contract posted as a part of the school board agenda.
The vacant at-large school board seat opened in March, when Josh Pauly announced his immediate resignation during the teachers strike, citing broken trust on the board and within the district.
Twenty-five candidates applied for the position. Booker won four votes from current board members. Lynne Crockett, another nominated candidate, received three votes.
Booker will serve out the rest of Pauly's term, which ends Jan. 2, 2023. She has worked as a corporate finance director and launched a college preparation and workforce development consulting firm. Board member Nelson Inz nominated Booker and said her finance background will add "significant value" to the board.
Board Chair Kim Ellison described Cox as a "trusted and proven leader" and said her shift into the leadership role would be seamless.
Board Member Jenny Arneson thanked Cox for stepping into the role to allow for time to do an "in-depth" search for a permanent superintendent.
"This is not easy to step into a role like this," Arneson said. "We need a year of steadiness and focus, and her experience with trauma-informed care is appropriate in this time."
Minneapolis schools also face an $86.2 million budget gap for next school year, up from a previous projection of $59.1 million. Declines in enrollment are proving steeper than expected, further stressing the budget, district officials say. Minneapolis Public Schools is predicting 1,000 fewer students next fall.
That gap will be covered by federal relief funds, money from the district's general fund and $27.1 million in budget cuts, the district said Tuesday.
To balance the budget, the district is planning to cut 5% in each department's budget. Schools also had to adjust their budgets based on enrollment projections.
Board members on Tuesday expressed concern about cuts that would affect students and asked about what the district will have to do once federal relief funds run out. Senior Financial Officer Ibrahima Diop said additional budget cuts would have to be made to close the gap.
Board Member Ira Jourdain said he would oppose any cuts that would reduce the availability of mental health resources for students — something students and teachers expressed concern about during public comments.
"I'm not pointing fingers here," Jourdain said after the budget report from the district's finance department. "But there has got to be another way."
More budget details will be presented at the board's finance committee meeting next week, and the board is expected to vote on the budget at its June business meeting.
Outgoing Superintendent Ed Graff was not at the meeting Tuesday. Ellison noted he had a prior commitment.
Graff announced in March, just days after the end of the teacher's strike, that he would leave the district when his contract expired at the end of June. Graff has served in the role for six years.
The district will soon announce search plans for a permanent superintendent, a process that Ellison said will solicit feedback from students, staff, families and community members.
Cox has worked in the district since 1997 and served as the executive director of special education and health services. As associate superintendent, she works with 19 elementary schools and their principals.
The school board on Tuesday also designated three buildings — Willard, Gordon and Tuttle — as surplus properties. That designation allows those buildings, which currently do not serve students, to be posted for purchase or lease offers.