Schools plan ends two Southwest magnets

MPS downsizing would save $7.5 to 8.5 million

Two Southwest magnet programs would end and another might change under a Minneapolis Public Schools restructuring plan presented April 28 to the School Board.

Changes in 2010 would save the district money by eliminating school programs and redrawing attendance boundaries to limit busing. The district also would close four schools in South Minneapolis neighborhoods.

Superintendent Bill Green told the School Board the Changing School Options plan would save the district $7.5 to 8.5 million annually and create “a new, effective, more-sustainable system.”

Green said the downsizing — while a source of anxiety for many district families — was anchored in a fundamental belief: “Do what’s best for the students.”

Many cuts target small school programs the district says are an inefficient use of resources, especially now when it faces a $28 million budget shortfall. New attendance rules would keep many children closer to home, reducing transportation costs.

Still, School Board Chair Tom Madden said the cuts did not go far enough. The district’s seven high schools, left mostly unscathed by Changing School Options, are unsustainable, Madden said.

The School Board votes on the plan May 26. A Changing School Options town hall meeting for Southwest residents was scheduled for 6:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m. May 14 at Southwest High School.

Southwest integration

The district aims to improve the diversity of its schools as it transitions to a smaller, more-efficient school system. The changes, Green said, could bring two to three more schools within its target range for diversity: 30 to 70 percent students of color.

The plan creates a voluntary integration program between North Minneapolis and one Southwest school. The school isn’t named, but several in Southwest have disproportionate numbers of white students.

Green said the district will use state dollars earmarked for school integration to fund the transportation plan. The integration program will target low-income students who live in North Minneapolis but attend schools outside the district through the Choice Is Yours program.

Reducing magnets

The number of students who might switch schools in fall 2010 will be determined largely by the new attendance area boundaries drawn this summer.

Right now, most Minneapolis families live in an attendance area with a community school where they are guaranteed a seat for their child. They may also choose from a number of magnet schools that draw students from a wider area.

The district intends for every student to have a community school in 2010. That means it will eliminate open attendance areas that lacked a nearby school, including a large open area around the Kingfield neighborhood.

By fall 2010, the number of magnet programs will drop to 11 from 16, eliminating some long bus rides. The district will offer each family busing to four or five of those magnets, depending on where they live within three new transportation zones.

Parkview Montessori School in Bryn Mawr was one of the magnets slated for closure. Students there will be offered a place in Bryn Mawr Community School or another nearby school.

The Kenwood Performing Arts Magnet program also will end, but in a different way. It is one of several programs that will “demagnetize” and revert to a community school.

Ramsey International Fine Arts Center, a magnet school in Tangletown, will remain a magnet. But district officials plan to engage the community in talks around changing its fine arts theme.

Reacting to parent concern that new attendance boundaries would force their students to switch schools, the district developed a grandfathering system for current students.

Students will be allowed to complete the final grade at their current school, even if they are assigned another community school when attendance boundaries are redrawn. The district will not provide out-of-area students transportation, however.

Younger siblings also will get “out of area preference” to join grandfathered students at their school, but only after all neighborhood students are seated.

Remaining questions

School Board members offered much praise for the administrators who spent months developing Changing School Options. Still, they identified several areas for concern in the plan.

Board members Pam Costain and Lydia Lee both questioned whether the district found a long-term solution for closing the Kingfield open attendance area. They expressed concern about Lyndale Community School’s capacity to absorb the new students.

Several board members said by passing up a chance to close one or two high schools, the district had only delayed the decision.

Madden said he hoped Changing School Options would give the district at least five years of stability. Declining enrollment would force the district to deal with high schools before then, he predicted.

“We’ll be back at the table in 2012,” he said.