Vote expected by end of November
The cost of Minneapolis Public School’s efforts to accommodate growing enrollment in its lower grades is set to top $40 million.
The School Board could vote as soon as Nov. 29 on a $14.5-million plan to reopen several closed school buildings and shift hundreds of classroom seats to make room for the influx of K–8 students. Earlier this fall, board members voted to spend $27 million to expand two crowded elementary schools, including Lake Harriet Community School’s lower campus in Southwest, bringing the total tab to about $41.5 million.
And it might not stop there.
As Budget Director Sarah Snapp explained at the Nov. 1 School Board meeting, the district had planned to put an estimated $4.7 million from the sale of two school buildings toward the cost of building its new headquarters at 1250 W. Broadway Ave., a $36.8-million project already underway. But the plan for increased enrollment includes reopening one of the buildings, Howe, and holds open that possibility for the other, Webster, if student population growth continues.
“If we don’t sell those buildings, we have to come up with that $4.7 [million] somewhere else,” Snapp said.
She said potential funding sources for the plan were the district’s general fund balance and bond sales. The district may also reprioritize some deferred maintenance projects and redirect the funds to where they’re needed most now: extra classroom seats.
At the same meeting, two of the Southwest school communities facing changes in 2012 as a part of the enrollment plan learned more about their fate.
The district projects K–8 enrollment could increase 2,030 to 3,300 students by 2015, a consequence of two trends: more school-age and younger children living in the city and Minneapolis families increasingly choosing district schools. Over half of that growth is expected to occur in Southwest.
The K–8 Jefferson Community School in The Wedge is under particular pressure from school-age population growth in surrounding neighborhoods. The district originally proposed to move the school’s middle grades to Anthony Middle School in the Kenny neighborhood, creating more space for the K–5 grades.
Jefferson families and staff countered with a proposal of their own to carve more classroom space out of the existing building. They filled the school lunchroom with “Save Jefferson” posters and cheering families during a meeting with district staff in early October. Parents and students expressed their desire to keep young students and their older siblings in one building.
It worked. The school remained a K–8 in the draft enrollment plan as of early November, although district staff left open the possibility of moving the middle grades in the future.
The cost of creating new classroom space was estimated at $153,000, which Board Member Lydia Lee said “seems like such a deal.”
“If we really can, let’s do it,” Lee added.
While that community meeting at Jefferson could be described as boisterous, it was far from bitter. That’s a remarkable change in tone from two years ago, when a district then focused on declining enrollment rolled out Changing School Options, a cost-saving plan that met fierce resistance from some segments of the community.
The plan some have dubbed “CSO II” has, in most cases, gone down much easier, in part because the district is moving in reverse and reopening schools instead of closing them.
An exception might be found at Ramsey International Fine Arts Center. The district plans to convert the Tangletown school building adjacent to Washburn High School into a new middle school.
To do so, the district would spend about $5.2 million to reopen the (currently closed) Folwell building in South and move Ramsey’s entire K–8 fine arts magnet program to the new location. In support of the plan, the district has pointed out about 70 percent of current Ramsey students actually live closer to Folwell.
Veteran Ramsey teacher Jennifer Vaillancourt was part of a four-member school delegation that argued the move would not be good for Ramsey students in a Nov. 1 appearance before the School Board.
“We are concerned about the disruption this will make for us next year,” Vaillancourt said. “Our kids are vulnerable.”
She asked the board to delay its decision one year.
Alison Dunkelberger, a Ramsey parent, said if the program had to move then the district had to meet several “requirements,” including: approving the entire budget for the move in advance; putting in place accountability measures; marketing the new school location to attract new families; forming a coalition between parents, teachers and district staff; and moving up the school’s 9:40 a.m. start time to allow for more after-school programming, like tutoring.
That got a positive reaction from Board Member Carla Bates, who said the delegation’s requirements “should be a template” for engagement with school communities forced to undergo disruptive change.