School budget cuts force bigger classes

K-2 classes will get 16 percent bigger; high school vo-tech programs take hit

Citing a $28 million budget shortfall, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson and Chief Operating Officer David Jennings presented proposed cuts to the School Board Jan. 21 and Jan. 28. The proposal cut salary costs, cut individual school funding, cut central administrative support and, most noticeably, increased class size.

The preliminary plans assume that state funding — 83 percent of the District’s revenue — will remain the same.

Class size The plan would increase class sizes above those established in the 2001 school-funding referendum. Johnson’s proposal raises K-2 classrooms from 19 to 22 students, 4th-8th grades from 25 to 28 and high school classes to over 30 per class.

However, Johnson did not increase 3rd-grade class sizes because of a district priority to improve that grade’s reading and math skills. The state mandates basic skills tests at the end of 3rd grade, and rates schools on those test results.

Because of class-size increases, the district estimates it will cut 208 teaching positions — 73 K-2 teachers, 88 in 4th through 8th grades, 69 in 9th through 12th grades. The 208 positions cut are on top of 81 positions already being cut due to decreased enrollment.

Enrollment-decline specifics MPS officials expected the enrollment to decline, but saw 800 additional students leave for state-funded charter schools and other state-funded programs. The district also lost revenue because students moved to suburban districts after a recent NAACP settlement.

David Heistad, the district’s research director, said more kids aren’t leaving for private schools.

Three Southwest Minneapolis charter schools (which are considered public) reported higher enrollments from MPS students. Twin Cities International Elementary School and Minnesota International Middle Charter, both at 3400 Dupont Ave. S., reported 50 and 23 more students, respectively. Watershed High School (formerly Waldorf School), 2344 Nicollet Ave. S., enrolled 50 Minneapolis Public Schools students.

How schools will cut State and federal laws limit the district cuts to individual schools. The district can’t cut compensatory aid (for schools with many students in poverty), or per-student special education funding.

That leaves impact aid (funds for smaller schools that don’t receive state and federal dollars for poor students), vocational education and non-special-ed per-student funding.

Though it may seem illogical to give schools extra money because their students don’t need special services, Gwen Jackson, MPS academic superintendent for grades

K-5, said it’s necessary so small schools with little poverty can buy extra teacher hours or equipment. Schools with more kids in poverty can buy these things with their state and federal aid.

Wendy Weimer, principal of Kenny Community School, 5720 Emerson Ave. S., said Kenny is a good example of a no-frills city school that doesn’t receive extra money for having students in poverty. Kenny, in the far south of the city, is a small K-5 school with less than 400 students and approximately 30 percent students in poverty.

Johnson proposed that each elementary school have administrative leadership, clerical support, teachers, added staff for lunch and recess supervision, a health office, janitorial service and a band or orchestra program.

Weaver applauds setting a service floor. "If there’s a tiny, through-the-key-hole sort of glimmer of hope for our small school, its that Superintendent Johnson has created some basic programs that each school must have," she said.

The cutting process Principals and site councils will likely receive funding allocations in mid-March, so schools haven’t started pouring over numbers just yet.

Principal Weimer said the budgeting process is always difficult, but cuts are especially hard after two years of them. "We cut in tiny amounts, so we can keep essentially the same programs," she said. "We’ll cut one-tenth of one teacher’s time in art, and then two-tenths in physical education, and try to pull together tenths of teachers’ time to create programs."

High school cuts If grade schools’ biggest change is bigger classes, for high schools the top challenge will be the cuts to vocational education programs — which MPS now calls the Career and Technology department.

Career and Technology programs in Southwest Minneapolis are located at Washburn High School, 209 W. 49th St. The department currently offers coursework in aviation, technical design, tourism, financial technology and engineering. Those programs require additional computer labs and industry equipment.

In his overview, Jennings estimated that MPS needed to cut Career and Technology by 40 percent, but a week after that initial presentation, department director Craig Vana said cuts would likely be around 25 percent.

Johnson organized budget cuts according to MPS’s highest priorities. But with few options for cuts, reducing Career and Technology funds may harm MPS’s priority of increasing high school graduation rates to 80 percent.

"We know that Career and Technology students attend school and graduate at a higher rate than other programs," said Vana. "Students value the approach of integrating academic knowledge with applied skills."

Vana is not only worried about keeping up with current programs, but also how MPS will be able to spot students’ future needs.

After two public hearings on Feb 5 and 6, the School Board is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget Tuesday, Feb. 11.

Kenny campaigns for students

In late December, almost 200 signs were pounded into the lawns of parents whose kids go to Kenny Community School.

Kenny’s Parent Teacher Association planned an aggressive marketing campaign after tightened busing rules cost the school 50 students. When a school loses students, it also loses financial support.

Kenny parents with lawn signs live in Windom, Kingfield, East Harriet, Lynnhurst and Kenny. Parents started the drive to increase awareness of Kenny, 5720 Emerson Ave. S., in neighborhoods without a community school — so-called "open areas" — or those whose closest school is too competitive to get into.

"We wanted to let families from other neighborhoods know that Kenny would love to be their neighborhood school. We have a strong community here, and it’s not about your address," said Christine Frisk, Kenny’s PTA President.

The $5,000 campaign, funded by parent contributions, has included at least two advertisements in the Southwest Journal and bulk-mailed brochures to families in the affected neighborhoods.

The campaign will continue after the Jan. 15 deadline for school choice cards, to attract families who didn’t get into their first-choice school. The PTA doesn’t expect Kenny to fill up after Jan. 15 and will advertise through the summer.

"A family who didn’t get into Barton [Open School] last year got into Kenny afterwards, and now they think it was a blessing in disguise," said Frisk who has 5th, 3rd and 1st graders attending Kenny.

But Frisk said she isn’t limiting the campaign to public-school families. She said she was someone who used to be afraid of the Minneapolis public schools: "I was scared that teachers wouldn’t have time for my kids, but what happened is the children that I was scared of the most were the very thing that made my kids’ experience better."