After a year filled with fierce debate over the school district’s future and a move to distance learning, the Minneapolis school board approved a balanced budget Tuesday night that assumes the coming year will be free of such disruptions.
The board also approved a $427 million capital plan that calls for sweeping improvements to district infrastructure over the next five years.
Minneapolis Public Schools’ 2020-2021 budget projects $860 million in revenue and $885 million in expenses. District leaders said they will fill the gap by reallocating money from other fund balances to help cover expenses. The budget includes $369 million for school-by-school allocations — $7 million less than the previous year — and about $416 million for the district’s central office, which supports services such as transportation, facilities, nutrition and community education.
“We have a responsibility to our children. This budget, in my opinion, is the fiscally most sound budget that I have ever had the opportunity to look at or read,” board member Kimberly Caprini said.
The approved budget ensures predictable staffing in all schools and factors in an estimated enrollment decline of 900 students.
Revenue projections did not account for any potential changes in the state funding formula because of COVID-19. Pandemic-related risks, such as increased tech costs for distance learning, were not factored into the 2020-2021 budget.
The board approved the budget on a 6-3 vote, with members KerryJo Felder, Bob Walser and Nelson Inz voting against it.
Inz opposed the budget because he felt it didn’t have enough investment in curriculum and services that contribute to a more “well-rounded student.” For years, he said, the district has focused its resources on literacy, math and, particularly, test score performance. He said each school should have more offerings in subjects like art, health and physical education.
“They are not reflected in our individual school budgets to the extent that I would like to see them, so I can’t support this budget,” Inz said.
Board Vice Chairwoman Jenny Arneson stuck by the budget and the process leaders went through to craft it.
“We named our values early in the process and we can link budget decisions … to those values,” Arneson said.
The board also voted 8-1 to approve a five-year capital plan. Walser was the sole member opposing it.
The capital plan includes $142 million in infrastructure projects related to the district’s comprehensive redesign and $285 million for other districtwide needs and long-term facility maintenance.
More than a dozen schools will receive money for infrastructure improvements under the capital plan, but the largest share of the funds will go to North High School. The district will spend more than $83 million to improve the school’s learning spaces, lunchroom and entrance, and renovate it to become a hub for career and technical education courses.
Walser cited the worsening economy and ongoing pandemic as reasons why he could not support the capital plan. Taking on that much debt is “simply irresponsible,” he said, and puts the district “dizzyingly close” to its borrowing limit and policy.
“This capital plan was created in and for a world that no longer exists,” Walser said. “The external context for long-term planning is very, very scary.”