Minneapolis Public Schools expects operating revenue to increase and enrollment to decrease in 2019-20, according to a preliminary budget released last month.
The district expects to receive $620.6 million in general-fund revenue in 2019-20, up from about $610.4 million in 2018-19. That’s despite a projected K-12 student count of 33,323, down from 34,128 as of Feb. 1, the most recent date for which attendance data is available online.
The revenue estimate assumes no per-pupil funding increases from the state, though Gov. Tim Walz has proposed a 3 percent increase in the general-education formula for fiscal year 2020. It does include funding from a pair of referenda Minneapolis voters approved this past November. One raised the district’s operating levy by $490 per pupil, and the other will raise approximately $12 million annually to help cover technology costs.
MPS uses general-fund revenue to pay for the operations of the school district, including everything from teacher, principal and support-staff salaries to transportation. The general fund comprises approximately 70 percent of the district’s budget each year and is separate from the funds used to pay for food service, community education, capital projects and debt service.
The latest general-fund revenue projection comes after two budget cycles in which district leaders made cuts to account for projected shortfalls. District officials have said they expect no widespread cuts for 2019-20.
At the Feb. 28 School Board Finance Committee meeting, Superintendent Ed Graff said the 2019-20 budget will deliver a sense of stability to schools and departments. He said the budget will include funding to ensure that all schools have positions such as health assistants, secretaries and office assistants. Not all of those positions have been available to schools in past years, he said.
Graff also noted the district’s plan to provide each K-5, K-8 and 6-8 school with funding for a teaching position to help support classroom teachers in differentiating curriculum. The proposed 2019-20 budget calls for the district to spend about $2.6 million on half-time differentiation specialists at its 51 schools serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Eric Moore, the district’s chief of accountability, research and equity and interim chief of academics, said differentiating instruction is one of the biggest challenges teachers have. He said the differentiation specialists will support teachers in ensuring the district is accelerating the needs of all students.
“We think this is a practical but much-needed addition to the work that we’re doing,” he said.
Moore said the differentiation specialists will support teachers through strategies such as co-teaching, co-planning, co-assessing and general problem solving. He said they should allow teachers to spend less time looking for materials and more time finding what gets students interested in learning.
“Our teachers should see this position as an immediate support,” he said.
All of the differentiation specialists will have an advanced-learner certificate or master’s degree-level training in gifted education, according to Chris Ramsey, district program facilitator for K-8 talent development and advanced learner education. She said the differentiation specialists will spend most of their time in classrooms and will work with all levels of students.
Ramsey said differentiation is a philosophy teachers can use to help advanced learners, who can become anxious or show perfectionist tendencies if they aren’t challenged. But she said the strategy can be used for any population of students, adding that students learn at a higher level when engaged around their interests.
“When we have teachers who are experienced in advanced differentiation and teach to the top, it accelerates growth and achievement for all students,” she wrote in an email.
Moore said he expects to see more engaged students, fewer disciplinary referrals and higher levels of academic growth across all ability levels because of the new position. He predicted that teachers would also feel more supported.
Ramsey adding that the specials will give teachers permission to do more risk taking.
In addition to the new position, the district is training one teacher per grade from every K-5 school in talent development and advanced-learner education, according to Ramsey. It plans to do the same for 6-8 teachers next year, she said.
The general-fund projection comes as K-12 enrollment continues to slide in MPS. At 34,128 K-12 students as of Feb. 1, the district’s K-12 enrollment was down about 860 from the same time in 2018 and over 1,300 from the same time in 2017. Longer term, enrollment is down approximately 14,000 when compared to the early 2000s, according to a 2017 Star Tribune analysis of statewide enrollment data, as more Minneapolis residents attend charter schools or open enroll.
MPS leaders say the declines are caused by factors such as a decrease in live birth rates and competition from charter schools, among others. They say they’d like to increase the number of Minneapolis residents who attend MPS as part of a strategic redesign project currently underway.
MPS has also experienced a 3,000-plus-student drop in the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch over the past five years. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch qualify for additional resources, such as compensatory-education revenue from the state and Title I funding from the federal government.
Graff attributed the decrease in students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch to several factors, including a decrease in unemployment and a “heightened sensitivity” around completing forms needed to qualify. He said the district has a targeted effort around making sure families are aware of the services they can receive by completing those forms.
Title I changes
The 2019-20 budget continues the district’s policy of distributing Title I funding only to schools where at least 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Before the current school year, the district had also distributed Title I funding to schools with poverty concentrations between 35 and 40 percent.
Five schools — Anthony, Howe, Southwest, Washburn and Windom — received Title I funding this school year but won’t next school year. All five are projected to have poverty concentrations of at least 34 percent but below the 40 percent threshold in 2019-20.
Other changes in the 2019-20 budget include giving each school $3,000 to $12,000 for translation services and building high school athletic director positions into school budgets. The district also maintained time-adjustment funding for middle schools and high schools, a line item that totals $6.4 million. District leaders initially removed the item during last year’s budgeting process, but the School Board voted 5-4 to reinstall it.
The district also plans to use its 2019-20 budget to help builds its unassigned reserves, after years of tapping them to cover shortfalls. District policy requires that the unassigned reserve fund represent 8 percent of the following year’s general-fund expenses. MPS had $31.6 million in its unassigned reserve fund at the end of the 2017-18 school year, which totals approximately 5.3 percent of the district’s estimated 2018-19 expenses.
District CFO Ibrahima Diop said on the 28th that he expects the district be able to put $4 million back into fund balance next school year.
Minneapolis principals and department heads must complete their budgets by March 15, before the School Board reviews the final budgets in April and May. The board will vote on the overall 2019-20 budget in June.