Tuesday night, the Minneapolis school board gave a unanimous nod to begin the design and planning process for an addition to Lake Harriet Community School's .
"If you'd asked me three months ago if we'd be here tonight (with this decision in hand), I would have said no," said Caroline Cochran, a Lake Harriet parent .
The district will use bonds, without levying property owners, to pay for the roughly $11 million project, along with $21 million in construction at similarly crowded Pratt and Lake Nokomis schools. The news comes as the district learned earlier this week that it has to find $15 million to make up for money lost after the state legislature .
"I have no intention of increasing our levy beyond what we levied last year. Minneapolis taxpayers have been more than generous," said board member Carla Bates. "We have to determine where we’re going to make up for this $15 million."
Taxes aside, the largest question hanging over Tuesday night's decision was whether the small number of Northside children participating in a program called "Mini Choice Is Yours" would be frozen out to maximize the number of spots available to neighborhood students.
Less than 20 students out of the 1,000 who attend the school participate in the program, which offers Northside families access to better-performing schools while keeping them in the district. Currently, enrollment is limited by the school's crowding issues. By contrast, around 160 students from other neighborhoods—many in Southwest—attend Lake Harriet after being grandfathered into the school when enrollment boundaries were changed in 2009.
In 2010, Lake Harriet was named a "private public school" by the Fordham Institute education think-tank, saying it was "effectively closed to poor children" due to its geography-based enrollment, along with the high cost of buying or renting in the Linden Hills and Fulton neighborhoods served by the school.
Superintendent Bernadiea Johnson said after Tuesday's meeting her administration wants to increase the number of spots available to Northside families.
"There is a commitment to the program," she said. "We have a lot of work to still do and we don't want to abandon it now. The thing is, how do we strengthen it?"