Angry Parents, School Board Get Look at Major Schools Cuts
Minneapolis Public Schools face a $25 million shortfall; cuts to the classroom and central office are proposed.
Friday morning, school board members and Minneapolis Public Schools staff made repeated promises to parents that neighborhood schools still have a say on budget cuts that some are calling "catastrophic."
"I want to keep putting it out there that these are preliminary numbers only," said Chief Financial Officer Robert Doty.
The cuts to schools are part of a package trying to close a $25 million budget shortfall and eliminate a budget deficit that's currently baked into the district's structure.
On Monday, Budget Director Sarah Snapp said, the Associate Superintendents would meet with the district's budget team to discuss the budget cuts—nearly 10 percent in some Southwest Minneapolis schools—to schools, and the problems they could cause. Snapp, Doty, and school board members repeatedly tried to convince the audience of 30-some-odd skeptical parents that the cuts to neighborhood schools in the proposed budget could change.
"We do have time to hear other ideas. Community engagement is not just about fighting for your school and its bottom line," at-large board member Richard Mammen said. "In over 300 emails (he recieved regarding the proposed cuts), I spotted only three with specific suggestions on how to do this differently. We really could use more of that help."
Southwest Minneapolis' school board member Tracine Asberry said she received over 700 emails and voicemails.
Doty promised details of the budget proposal would be published on the Finance Department website early next week, and board member Tracine Asberry (District 6) pushed Doty to use robocalls and take-home leaflets to include families without internet access in the budget conversation. Asberry and other board members at the meeting peppered Doty and Snapp with demands for specifics about the detailed ramifications of the budget proposal.
What other budget information has the district promised to release by Tuesday? Asberry posted a list on her official Facebook page. Patch will post the information as it comes out.
While the board won't vote on next year's budget until June, parents and the board effectively only have until March 29 to make substantive changes to the proposal. After that point, individual schools are told the minimum amount of money they will receive from the district, in order to lay off or hire staff for the coming school year.
"That's the commitment point," said at-large school board member Rebecca Gagnon.
Parents at Friday's meeting—many of them PTA and site council members who help principals make budget decisions—complained that two weeks was a laughably insufficient amount of time to digest a half-billion dollar budget proposal and recommend tweaks in order to minimize damage to their schools. Gagnon, who also chairs the board's Finance Committee, explained that the district has been working to publish budget proposals earlier each year, but said principals should be doing a better job of reaching out to their school communities on budget issues.
"We gave principals a look at their preliminary reductions in January. That initial allocation should be transparently presented to teachers and parents," said Mark Bonine, Associate Superintendent for Turnaround Schools, echoing Gagnon's comments. "The budget process doesn't start and end in March."
In a phone interview with Patch on Friday evening, Asberry said the most important thing now was to "move forward collectively" in trying to find solutions for the $25 million deficit.
"We all need to take responsibility," Asberry said. "There definitely could have been a better way to reach stakeholders so they're not left with this level of angst. The bottom line, though, is that we're here where we are today, and we can take notes about how to do it better next time."
Getting Into the Weeds
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