Changes would delay schools plan

School Board asks to modify new choice plan for schools

Calling a plan to shrink the Minneapolis school district “D.O.A.” — or dead on arrival — Minneapolis School Board Chair Tom Madden led his colleagues in a discussion of possible revisions to that plan Tuesday night.

In talks that stretched to three-and-a-half hours, board members identified specific concerns about a plan that in 2010 would eliminate school programs and change attendance rules to limit busing. No votes were cast during the informal session at district headquarters, but Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) administrators will draft a plan that includes some revisions, Superintendent Bill Green said.

Green indicated that process likely would delay a May 26 vote on the plan, known as Changing School Options.

“It’s not likely we’ll be able to stay on track,” he said.

Madden said delaying the vote was better than the alternative: a likely “No” vote on Changing School Options would have forced administrators to start from scratch.

The efficiencies proposed in the Changing School Options plan are seen as critical to a district facing a $28 million budget shortfall and declining enrollment. Board Members and district administrators agree that MPS must reign in spending on facilities and transportation.

(Details of the plan are available on the district website: www.mpls.k12.mn.us.)

Board Member Pam Costain said her colleagues shared blame with administrators for the unsatisfactory plan presented April 28 by Green.

“The Board has been very unfocused on what it wants,” Costain said.

On Tuesday night, board members covered a number of the hot-button topics they had debated for over a year as the restructuring plan was developed.

“These are big issues that are preventing people from not only being on board with the plan, but being excited about it,” Madden said.

They asked administrators to be more specific in describing new transportation zones and school attendance boundaries, and to clarify the pathways students would follow from elementary school to middle school to high school.

“I do think the plan needs boundaries, because people can’t understand the plan without boundaries,” Costain said.

Those attendance boundaries determine which schools families have access to based on their street address. Many parents said they could not accurately judge Changing School Options without the new boundaries, which administrators said they would redraw this summer.

Changes to attendance boundaries will force some families to switch schools. Board members asked administrators to identify the racial and economic make up of that group in greater detail.

Board members also asked for a more equitable distribution of magnet schools, specialized educational programs that draw students from a wide area. While Changing School Options aimed to give students across the city access to a similar number of magnet programs, more were placed in close proximity to Southwest than any other part of the city.

The School Board asked administrators to give serious consideration to a plan that would link Barton Open School and Lyndale Community School, creating one K-8 program. A group of parents living in the Kingfield and East Harriet neighborhoods developed the detailed proposal.

Creating the new dual-campus school would require moving the Open program at Barton. How and where to move that program was one of the many unanswered questions raised in the discussion.

Board Member Chris Stewart cautioned his colleagues that any change to the plan could have unintended consequences.

“This is not a modification of the plan,” Stewart said. “… This is major surgery when it comes to the implications.”