With school district administrators trying to close a $25 million budget deficit, Southwest Minneapolis schools could stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Earlier this week, Minneapolis Public Schools officials released details of the proposed budget for the 2013-2014 school year to principals and parent leaders. Howls of protest greeted the package of cuts, with some calling the reductions "catastrophic."
Friday morning, the school board's Finance Committee met to get a high-level overview of the proposal. The board votes on the final budget in June, but minimum allocations to individual schools are set on March 29.
Thursday, parent leaders from most Southwest Minneapolis schools sent a letter to school board members protesting the cuts:
Though specific dollar amounts vary between our schools, the overall catastrophic issues are the same. This budget puts our children's security at risk and significantly hinders our current academic programming. In addition, the implied expectation to have parents fundraise and volunteer extensively to make up for a significant portion of a school's budget deficit is not practical or realistic.
The letter went on to enumerate the cuts most of Southwest Minneapolis elementary, middle, and high schools would have to make to compensate for the loss of, on average, $425,000 at the impacted schools:
- Multiple teachers in core subject areas at the high school level (at Southwest High School). This will diminish academic rigor and exacerbate already severely overcrowded classrooms.
- Significantly reduce the front line and office support staff who monitor public traffic and access to our school buildings. This puts the security or our children at risk and is totally unacceptable!
- Reduce full day kindergarten classes to half day at most sites. This alone will have a significantly negative impact on student achievement.
- Eliminate trained mental health professionals as well as medical assistants and remedial assistants who ensure our children's mental and physical health are not compromised.
At Friday's meeting, the district's Chief Financial Officer Robert Doty argued the pain was hitting the district's central office as hard as it were hitting individual schools. Doty highlighted 50 full-time equivalent positions being shed at 1250 West Broadway as part of the cuts package, although it was not immediately clear from his presentation what percentage of staff these cuts represented.
Some central office functions, though, would be hard to cut, Budget Director Sarah Snapp told Patch in an interview after Friday's meeting. Janitors and maintenance staff, for example, are counted as central office staff in the district's accounting system. Others provide critical supports for teachers.
"It's a false dichotomy (between central office and local schools cuts) if you lay this out with too broad a brush," she said.
School board members cautioned that the dollar figures in Doty's presentation (see the spreadsheet, above) were not necessarily true reflections of the budget proposal's impact on schools—and they will change as the board pokes, prods, and modifies the budget proposal in the coming weeks.
"Some of the money that's getting cut at a school could be because a program is ending" independent of the changes in the proposed budget, Tracine Asberry (District 6) told Patch in a phone interview Friday evening. "We really need to wait to see the formulas behind them so we can understand so that number means."
During the meeting, Doty promised to post detailed specifics, including a full budget proposal, on the district's website for parents to peruse, along with seven other items of budget information. Doty also promised more efforts to engage the school district's community over how to close the $25 million gap without hurting schools.
"Now we, as a board, need to do deep dives and figure out what does each cut mean," board member Rebecca Gagnon (at-large) told the crowd at Friday's meeting. "We have to very clearly understand because there could be situations that are, by law, out of our hands. But there are also opportunities for creative problem-solving."
Want to learn more? Check out our other coverage:
- What's Causing the Cuts?
- Parents Ring Alarm Bells Over "Catastrophic" Schools Cuts