Southwest schools get ’04-’05 budgets, and pain

Ramsey, Anthony, Anwatin and Washburn hardest hit

Minneapolis Public School principals received their 2004-05 budgets April 13, and nearly all will absorb their fourth straight year of cuts.

Few will fare worse than Southwest's Ramsey International Fine Arts magnet. At a school where students are expected to learn a string instrument from kindergarten through 6th grade, the music staff will be cut from five positions to 1.4.

"For us, it is going to be very hard to maintain a fine arts magnet next year," Ramsey Principal Steve Norlin Weaver said.

Ramsey, 1 W. 49th St., is one of four Southwest schools that will see higher-than-average budget cuts because Minneapolis no longer guarantees federal Title I aid to schools with a majority of students in poverty. The other affected schools are Anthony Middle School, 5757 Irving Ave. S.; Washburn High School, 210 W. 49th St.; and Anwatin Middle School, 256 Upton Ave. N.

These schools will lose federal dollars that usually go for teaching assistants and specialists in reading and math.

Facing a $1.7 million Title I cut, the Minneapolis district raised the standard for schools to share the money. Currently, a school with 50 percent of its kids in poverty qualifies; next year, it will be 60 percent.

Ramsey, with 55.7 percent of its students in poverty, lost $318,000 from Title I. Anwatin (58.4 percent poverty rate) lost $276,320. Anthony (49.9 percent poverty rate) took a $250,159 cut. Washburn (53.3 percent poverty rate) lost $406,105.

That total came on top of cuts due to shrinking enrollment and declining state aid. Overall, Ramsey will lose $615,000 (11 percent of its budget) even though they are projected to lose just 27 students. Anwatin, projected to have 55 fewer kids, will lose $600,000, or 14 percent of its funds. Anthony, facing an estimated 52-student drop, will be cut $500,000, or 11 percent of the budget. Washburn's projected loss of 100 kids adds up to a $639,000 cut, or 9 percent of its funds.

Norlin-Weaver said the consequences go beyond Ramsey's Fine Arts focus. He foresees "fewer teaching assistants to help with reading support, fewer licensed teachers, no counselor for middle school, social work will take a hit, and gifted and talented will be eliminated."

Anthony Principal Jackie Hanson said cuts would force her to eliminate reading teachers, its bilingual Somali program aid and its mediation coordinator.

Despite fewer dollars, Anthony will continue to maintain a rigorous academic program, Hanson said. She's hoping that parental involvement at her school will soften the blow.

Not all schools have specified cuts because principals have until Monday, May 3 to submit their budgets to the district.

At Anwatin, Principal Beth Russell said, "We are going to have to be very creative. There are a lot of programs we have to honor because we don't want to compromise our middle school."

Anwatin's International Baccalaureate program offers music, a community service program and three languages: French, Spanish and Japanese. Russell said that maintaining those programs would be her school's priority.

Other schools hit

Southwest schools unaffected by the Title I change will see cuts, too. The district expects to have 3,000 fewer students next school year, reducing its total budget by $23 million to $460 million. Two hundred teachers are expected to lose their jobs.

Kenwood Elementary and Performing Arts School, 2013 Penn Ave. S., is projected to lose 13 percent of its student body (from 433 kids to 376), and will take a 23 percent budget cut, or $205,000. Principal Terry Factor said the school stands to lose three teachers and three other staff positions.

"There is some angst regarding this situation. The next step is working with parents and the school community to decide what things are not going to get done next year," Factor said.

Jefferson Community School, 1200 W. 26th St., saw a 13 percent or a $563,000 cut, even though its Title I dollars increased by $19,000. District officials estimate that Jefferson will have 75 fewer students next fall.

Jefferson Principal Ray Aponte and his staff will decide on how the cuts will be made in a series of 16 meetings. "The staff has decided that regardless of whatever else happens, there will be all-day kindergarten at Jefferson. That is something they will not lose."

Bigger budgets no panacea

Only four Minneapolis schools will see bigger budgets next year, and three are in Southwest: Burroughs Community School, 1601 W. 50th St.; Lake Harriet Community School, 4912 Vincent Ave. S.; and Barton Open School, 4237 Colfax Ave. S. (Seward Montessori is the other.)

All will receive more money because their enrollment is projected to grow.

Burroughs' budget will increase $234,000; however, funding per student will shrink from $4,881 to $4,823. (The school's budget will go up 10 percent, less than the projected 12-percent enrollment increase from 500 students to 560.)

The state cut Burroughs' aid for students who don't speak English or are in poverty by $26,500 (a portion of the cut is because Burroughs expects to have fewer kids who are in poverty next year). That's why Principal Tim Cadotte is contemplating program cuts. "I am concerned about our band program, our strings program, and our gifted and talented programs. Those are the things that we will cut first if we have to," he said.

Schools are not completely free to allocate their budgets. They must use about 45 percent of their funds to keep class sizes at levels promised in the 2000 school bond referendum. English Language Learner and Special Education funds are earmarked as well, leaving 20 or 30 percent of the budget free to cut.

Unencumbered -- i.e., easiest-to-cut -- funds often support gifted and talented programs, educational assistants and clerical support.

District Budget Director Marj Rolland, who has been formulating each school's allocation since February, said her goal was to distribute the $23 million in cuts fairly throughout district, while keeping class sizes at referendum levels.

Acting Minneapolis School Superintendent David Jennings said that while declining enrollment caused half the deficit, the other half is political.

"It is clear that the state has decided to help solve its own budget problems in part by further tightening resources for schools. And [that] has been particularly tough on urban schools."

A chronic problem facing the schools is unfunded federal and state mandates. Federal No Child Left Behind dollars decrease 7.8 percent next school year, taking $20 million from school coffers.

Asked if the budget cuts would have been as severe had the district closed nine schools as he suggested back in February, Jennings said that it is now a moot point and he preferred not to comment.