MPS seeks policy changes when Legislature convenes

Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) has a long list of concerns that it will take to the State Legislature when the body convenes in March.

Because the state will not be considering budget requests during this bonding year, the district is asking for policy changes to save costs.

Specifically, the district is looking to unload costs associated with students who attend school outside the district that are a result of open enrollment.

Right now, Minneapolis students educated outside the district don't count among MPS's enrollment total, although all those students' costs are paid for by the district. The majority of students are in special education programs in suburban or charter schools.

The Legislature is involved because the change would require the state to modify its rules governing district attendance areas. MPS wants the law amended so that the district receiving the per-pupil state funding would pick up the cost of providing the service. This change would save the district about $10 million annually.

&#8220It's a simplification that would create a re-allocation,” said MPS Lobbyist Jim Grathwol.

Similarly, under the Charter School Transportation Mandate, the district is required to transport charter school students, which is more expensive than busing a large number of kids to their local schools. On average, it costs MPS $1,500 to bus one charter school student a year compared to $550 for each public school student.

By providing transportation to what are typically smaller and more focused charter schools, the district is losing large numbers of students because there's little incentive to stay in the district, officials say.

&#8220We create an environment where we're delivering less to our customers at the expense of our customers,” said Grathwol. &#8220We wind up giving greater services at far greater costs (to charter students) than we're able to deliver to our own customers.”

The district also hopes to revive its four-year-old kindergarten program, cut during the budget process last year, and receive a temporary stay on implementation of its mandated desegregation plan until the Minnesota Department of Education can evaluate its merits. The district also will continue to oppose the statewide health plan proposed by Education Minnesota, the teachers union in the state. A majority of districts outside of Minneapolis likewise are against the plan.

MPS also hopes to correct a technical snafu that limits enrollment age to 21 years. This has a particular impact on students for whom English is not their first language. Right now, some international students are ousted from the school system before they graduate. MPS wants to amend the law so that the age restriction is lifted or made more flexible.

The district expects to be a major force in discussions surrounding the teacher pension plan, as well. The state stopped contributing to the fund in the 1920s, and it now is millions in debt. Like Social Security, current contributions are paying for teachers already retired and some predict the system will collapse within seven to 10 years if public monies aren't secured.

&#8220It is a huge unfunded liability,” said MPS School Boardmember Judy Farmer, who believes the issue will be resolved this year.