The Minneapolis school board on Tuesday approved a sweeping and controversial plan that will reshape the state’s third-largest school district for years to come and shuffle thousands of students to new schools.
The school board voted 6-3 in favor of Superintendent Ed Graff’s redistricting plan for Minneapolis Public Schools during a virtual meeting, against the wishes of many parents and teachers who pleaded for the board to delay its vote until the pandemic subsides and public comment could resume.
Graff’s plan will redraw attendance boundaries and reduce and relocate magnet schools to the center of the city in an effort to address racial disparities, a nagging achievement gap and an anticipated budget deficit of nearly $20 million. The district’s current structure has led to yearly budget shortfalls, more segregated schools and worse outcomes for North Side students, leaders say.
“Over the last 10 years, so many North Side schools have been purposefully … under-enrolled to support schools across the district,” said school board member Kimberly Caprini, who voted in favor of the plan. “This is academic justice for a system that has failed black and brown children.”
District officials say the redesign will help achieve better racial balance and avoid the potential shuttering of under-enrolled schools.
The plan will also cut some of the district’s most popular programs and require significant investment. Ongoing operating costs for the restructuring will total about $11 million per year, and the district anticipates it will have to spend more than $560 million on capital projects over the next five years.
Most of the major changes will likely take effect in the 2021-2022 school year. School board chairwoman Kim Ellison told the Star Tribune last week that the implementation of these changes could be delayed because of the pandemic.
Board members KerryJo Felder, Bob Walser and Ira Jourdain voted against the redesign plan. Felder and Walser offered amendments to delay the vote and require the district to have its plan scrutinized by an independent equity audit. The motions were voted down.
“The idea is great, but we haven’t seen how it’s going to work,” Felder said. “We haven’t shown our work.”
School board members listened to more than two hours of voice mail testimony Tuesday and received more than 300 written public comments.
Some callers praised the district for forging ahead with a plan they believe will disrupt the status quo and distribute academic resources more equitably.
Milena Troha, a sophomore at Southwest High School, urged the board to approve the plan because “we cannot keep depriving students of color of the resources they need to be successful in this district.”
“It is time for MPS to address the issues that have driven families of color out of the district for years, and this plan is the first step to doing so,” Troha said.
But more than 90% of the 300-plus written comments were opposed to the redistricting plan. Some parents vowed to pull their children out of the district and enroll them elsewhere.
Most agreed systemic change is needed, but many said the district showed little proof that this plan will narrow the achievement gap or make Minneapolis schools more financially sustainable.
“Without concrete evidence in the modeling of the plan, I don’t trust that simply shuffling more kids to neighborhood schools is enough to fix the achievement gap. And I haven’t seen proof that it will do that,” said Hannah Neely, who has two children enrolled at Seward Montessori School.