Editor's note: Check back at Southwest Minneapolis Patch tomorrow for an article on the school district's efforts at transparency and community engagement in this process.
If current trends persist, there will be an additional 900 students in Minneapolis schools by 2015.
At Monday evening’s public meeting at Ramsey International Fine Arts Center, school board members and staff called the increase in enrollment a “good problem,” because it means that Minneapolis students are staying in public schools. But some of the shifts necessary to deal with the issue, like increased class sizes or moving attendance boundaries, are very unpopular with the community.
The increase in enrollment is due to a couple factors, said Courtney Cushing Kiernat, who works on special projects for the superintendent. Minneapolis schools are retaining a higher number of students born in the city, up five percent between 2006 and 2010. The birth rate has also slightly increased in Minneapolis, meaning the district absorbed an even larger number of students from that five percent bump. Kiernat said the enrollment increases are likely partly due to the recession's financial impact on families.
Some areas, like Southwest Minneapolis, have seen drastic enrollment increases (see PDF), partly because the high-performing schools are seen as desirable. In the parts of the city with the greatest expected increases, schools are already packed.
The district has already made some shifts to prepare for the 200 additional kindergarten students expected across the district next year. It’s all about finding enough places for students in the buildings, said David Dudycha, project member and retired executive director of planning and policy for Minneapolis.
“We’ve already opening up some sessions at magnets, in Lyndale [Community School] and we’ve done some in zone 2 in anticipation of those additional kindergartners,” Dudycha said. "One-thousand [new students in 2015] is the one where we’re more concerned because it’s over a span of time.”
The gridlocked state legislature also could factor into Minneapolis’ school decisions. If integration dollars are eliminated, as Republicans proposed, that would lead to an influx of up to 2,000 additional students to city schools, staff said.
“This is not a perfect process there are a lot of unknowns,” Kiernat told the crowd. “With all of these moving parts, and a lot of moving parts these moving parts that we have absolutely no control over, how can we plan for enrollment going forward?”
The district is making a push to get feedback from the community in six meetings across the city. At Monday's meeting, parents broke down into small groups to talk about strategies to manage increased enrollment, including some options offered by district staff: Increase class size, change or enforce pathways to schools zones, open or re-purpose existing buildings, build new buildings, change attendance boundaries and end sibling or employee preference.
"We want to gain ideals from the community," said Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle. "We also we want to demonstrate the complexity and impact that any changes to enrollment can have on other schools in the district."
Parents also considered the school board's five stated goals as the district adjusts to increased enrollment: Strengthen academic programs, equity, impact on families and community, sustainability and financial impact.
One parent group suggested that schools be made equally desirable so that students could attend nearby schools, rather than high-performing schools that are farther from their homes.
Another parent group came to the conclusion that any solutions need to draw from multiple areas: "A cookie-cutter approach is not going to work."