MPS faces $100 million shortfall

Rising costs, declining revenue challenge school budget

Lisa Sayles-Adams, the new Minneapolis Public School (MPS) Superintendent, has been on the job for less than three months and has already participated in two major contract negotiations. Plus, she is facing a 17% budget reduction next year, from this year’s budget of $643,890,246. 
In March, the MPS school board received details of declining revenues that will result in a $110 million shortfall next year due to decreased enrollment and an end to federal aid. District staff predict that 413 fewer students will enroll next September, compared with enrollment from this February. Increasing costs in salaries and benefits, transportation, special education programming, implementing the state’s new reading education requirements, utilities, software licensing and English learning support to students new to the district make the problem even worse.
“MPS, like districts across the state and country are grappling with the loss of unprecedented federal COVID-relief funding, and it’s not been easy. What’s within our control is how we divide the pie we have,” said Collin Beachy, at-large school board member and board chair. 
“It’s very frightening,” said school board member Adriana Cerrillo. “I fear for our children and our city, everyone in this city.”
Cerrillo represents the school system’s fourth district that includes downtown and southwest areas. “I don’t see enough people fighting,” said Cerrillo. “I’m not going to sit down for solutions. We need to go to the governor; it’s just that simple and the federal government needs to step in, as well. We have money for war, we have money for everything, but we don’t have money for education?”  
The proposed budget cuts $47 million and includes reductions in staff and some programs, but no school closings. Staff propose to cover the remaining costs by using $55 million from the district’s fund balance reserves, as well as not hiring people for currently funded but unfilled positions to save another $13 million. The proposal also calls for increasing the class size by three students in those schools where fewer than “70% of the students are on free or reduced meals.”
“These past few years, for the first time in my decades-long career in public education, we actually had a level of resources close to what we need,” said Beachy. “In MPS, that was over $250 million during the pandemic, so the size of the pie grew substantially. My school board colleagues and I are committed to ensuring we make the difficult and necessary decisions to balance a budget for next year, and we’ll also keep working on expanding the size of the pie through continued advocacy with the state and federal governments, by asking voters to approve an increase to our technology levy, and by growing enrollment.” 
The recommended budget includes school allocations and building, or capital, improvements. 
Next year, southside capital improvements include $5 million for a new entrance at South High School, $400,000 for classroom improvements at Sullivan/Anishinaabe, and $1.5 million to support career and technical education at Roosevelt.
Per Pupil Breakdown
Under the proposed budget, funding for individual schools varies depending on the number of students and a few other considerations including the Title 1 funding the school qualifies for, support of English language learning, and special education. Some schools qualify for the district’s “racially isolated school support.” Per pupil allocations range from $7,912 to over $19,000.
As a point of reference, two popular private schools with campuses located in Minneapolis, Blake and Minnehaha Academy, charge $40,607 and $28,900 respectively for 9-11th graders.
In the proposed MPS budget, the per pupil allocation will be reduced for all MPS schools next year including those located on the southside. Roosevelt, for example, will be reduced by 10.17% from $10,625 to $9,544. South High School’s per pupil allocation will go from $14,986 to $13,289. The largest reduction, however, will be to the magnet school allocation, which is going down 22.74%, from $17,507 to $13,968. Camden High School is going from $19,740 to $16,393 – a 20% reduction.
The budget cuts will likely impact all schools, and some more than others. “Any time there’s this significant a year-over-year variation in the budget, there will, of course, be an impact,” said Beachy. “One area where many schools will see this change with fewer resources for academic intervention teams. This was a program made possible by federal COVID relief funding, and while a scaled-back version of the program has been retained in Title I schools, it’s a big change for other schools.” 
Budget Revisions Address Earlier Concerns
School board and community members raised concerns about the initial budget. This includes centralizing the magnet coordinators who are currently located in the magnet schools, cutting assistant principals in elementary schools, and eliminating fifth grade band. Objections have also been raised to the proposed $777,120 new investment in “breakthrough teams” that are intended to reduce academic disparities by providing professional development at racially isolated school sites.
Lori Norwell is the school board member representing district 5, which includes the majority of greater Longfellow and Nokomis. At the March 26 meeting, when the budget was first formally presented, Norwell expressed concerns about the proposal to cut fifth grade band, as well as cuts in coordinators for each magnet school. She also questioned funding the breakthrough teams. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the breakthrough teams,” said Norwell, “and something I keep thinking about is starting a new program with the cuts we’re making.”
These concerns appear to have resulted in some changes to what is now moving forward. On May 21, the Minneapolis Public School (MPS) board’s finance committee voted to recommend a budget to send to the full board of directors for possible approval at the June 18 meeting.
Each magnet school has some discretion with their budgets and at least one, according to Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams, has already found a way to fund their coordinator.
“The superintendent and her team have been very responsive to board and community feedback, and we’ve seen that reflected in the changes they’ve made to the proposed budget. This includes restoring funding for the fifth grade band program and for three assistant principals at certain elementary schools. I was a proponent of these changes and I’m grateful they’ve been made, though I do recognize that reductions will need to be made in other areas to offset them,” said Beachy. 
“With Dr. Sayles-Adams at the helm, and together with this school board and a community that we all know cares deeply about MPS and public education, I’m excited about where we’re headed. We have momentum, and despite the challenges before us, the future of MPS is bright,” said Beachy. 


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