Schools notebook: MPS enrollment

MPS enrollment declines less than expected

Minneapolis Public Schools’ student population continues to shrink, but for the second year in a row the district beat its own predictions by retaining more students than expected.

Preliminary figures released in October showed total enrollment fell about 1 percent to roughly 32,300 students. Last spring, the district projected to lose about 880 students, but the actual decline this fall was closer to 300 students.

Year-to-year enrollment declines were often closer to 5 percent in the past decade. A long slide began after the 2000–2001 school year, when more than 45,000 students attended the city’s public schools.

That trend has yet to reverse, but district officials interpret smaller declines this year and last year as positive signs. School Board Member Carla Bates credited Supt. Bill Green’s leadership with improving the district’s student retention rate.

“This is a testimony to the excellent work of you and your team over the past couple of years,” Bates said.

In a presentation to the School Board Oct. 13, Chief Financial Officer Peggy Ingison outlined three factors that contributed to the smaller-than-expected decline.

Ingison said the loss of district students to area charter schools had slowed significantly.

Charter schools added almost 1,000 Minneapolis students to their rolls each year from 2003 to 2007, but last year they attracted only about 250 new Minneapolis students, she said.

Ingison said another factor was an effort to stabilize staffing in North Side schools since the School Board voted two years ago to close five schools in that part of the city.

“We really saw the North Side enrollment in particular stabilize and, in fact, increase in the elementary grades pretty significantly,” she said.

A third factor was the credit crisis and its effect on home sales. It likely limited the number of families with school-age children who would have moved out of the district in the past year, Ingison said.

The district set aside about $2 million to make staffing adjustments in just this type of scenario, and since September added 18 new teaching positions at various schools.

Ingison said growth at the kindergarten and elementary levels would “bode well” for the future. There were more than 300 more elementary school students this fall than last fall, and almost 200 more kindergarteners.

At the middle school level, enrollment declined about 125 students from last fall. High school enrollment was down about 500 students.

The drop at the high school level was a demographic trend the district saw coming. From 1998 to 2003 the district experienced “significant loss of kindergarten students,” Ingison said, adding: “Those are students who are just making their way through the high school grades now.”

Official student tallies were expected in November, along with updated enrollment projections for future school years.

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Search for new superintendent begins

Plans to seek a replacement for Superintendent Bill Green were outlined by School Board Chair Tom Madden at the board’s Oct. 13 meeting.

Green announced in July he would step down when his contract expires June 30. A tenured professor on leave from Augsburg College, Green said he planned to return to teaching and writing.

Madden said that following a September vote on a major district restructuring plan, Changing School Options, the School Board “moved immediately to the task of finding a new superintendent,” meeting twice in the first two weeks of October to develop a superintendent search strategy.

He said board members planned to meet with various district stakeholders, including parents, employees, community leaders and others. Those meetings would conclude by early November, he said.

As Madden described it, the School Board was trying to develop a clear picture of the current state of the district. They also aimed to identify some of the qualities they will look for in superintendent candidates.

The School Board also was seeking guidance from outside the district.

Madden said board members were researching the experiences of other urban districts that recently completed a superintendent search. And the board was readying a request for proposals for professional search firms who could help identify candidates.

“We are aware of the need for both careful deliberation and speed as we move forward,” he said. “We intend to finish our task in a timely manner, while engaging in an open, fair and transparent process.”

Public comment on the superintendent search process can be submitted by e-mail to: suptsearch@mpls.k12.mn.us

Communications Associate Emily Lowther said the School Board was seeking input on several specific questions about a future superintendent. The list of questions, available in several languages, can be found by clicking on “Superintendent Search” at the top of the Minneapolis Public Schools website (mpls.k12.mn.us).