After adjustment, cuts to schools not as deep

Minneapolis Public Schools released some additional funds to principals in late March just as they were preparing their budgets for the 2013–2014 school year.

That means while most schools are still facing budget cuts next year, those cuts won’t go quite as deep as first thought. District Chief Financial Officer Robert Doty said several weeks ago he had a “pot of money” to help ease the pain for schools, and although he didn’t reveal at the time how large it was, the district in April confirmed they’d released about $2 million to schools.

It seemed to alleviate some of the concerns expressed by parents in March.

“I think the basic, very basic, safety issue has been addressed,” said Lois Hall, co-chair of the Kenny Community School site council.

In a March 14 letter to the School Board, Hall and several dozen other parents warned drastic cuts would force principals to lay off school support staff, leaving offices empty and playgrounds and lunchrooms without adequate adult supervision. In some schools, the discussion has since shifted from laying off support staff to instead reducing their hours next school year.

At Burroughs Community School, more of the funds raised by parents are destined to fill holes in the operating budget — helping to pay for crossing guards, test coordinators and tutors — instead of special projects, said Melissa Riebe, president of that school’s PTA.

District Budget Director Sarah Snapp said associate superintendents met with each principal after the release of the preliminary school allocations but before principals set their budgets for next school year. While “nobody thought they got everything they wanted,” the associate superintendents used the additional district funds to fill critical budget holes, Snapp said.

“An example of that would be some schools that really couldn’t maintain their all-day [kindergarten] classrooms,” she said. “That’s a priority. We really wanted to maintain those.”

As a whole, the district’s K–5 schools will receive about $1.9 million less from the district next year. The cuts to K–8 schools, including several dual-campus sites, amount to $4.3 million. Funding for the five 6–8 middle schools was reduced about $777,000, while high school cuts nearly reached $4.2 million.

The district is attempting to close a $25-million budget shortfall for the 2013–2014 school year without dipping into its reserve fund, which has been depleted in recent years.

“The fundamental thing is we’re really committed to getting to a structurally balanced budget, because that’s the only way we get out of having to do this year after year,” Snapp said. “That’s what gets us to some stability and, hopefully, a growth mode.”

The School Board votes on a final budget in June, but there may be more changes to the budget picture before then.

Snapp said some of the cuts made earlier by the district are being reevaluated. At the same time, district leaders are watching closely as legislators at the state capitol debate various K–12 funding proposals.

“This is an unusual year in that usually by the time we get to the middle of April things are a little more sewn up than this,” she said.

District teachers are finalists for Teacher of the Year

Two Minneapolis Public Schools teachers are among the 10 finalists for the 2013 Minnesota Teacher of the Year award.

Daniel Kilibarda, a third-grade teacher at Burroughs Community School, and Amy Lynn Sinness, a first-grade teacher at Lucy Craft Laney School, were both chosen as finalists from a group of 135 candidates, including six teachers from Minneapolis. The list of finalists was announced April 1 by Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union and sponsor of the annual award, now in its 49th year.

The 2013 Minnesota Teacher of the Year will be announced at a May 5 banquet. One day earlier, the selection panel will interview all of the finalists one last time before selecting a winner, who will spend the next year as an ambassador for Minnesota educators.

Minneapolis has had two Teacher of the Year Award winners in the past decade: Amber Damm in 2009 and Gino Marchetti in 2003.

Former district athletic director honored

John Washington, the former Minneapolis Public Schools athletic director who retired last year, was named Athletic Director of the Year in April by the Minnesota Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MNIAAA).

Washington was the first Minneapolis athletic director since 1973 to receive the award, according to the MNIAAA’s website. It was presented April 4 at the association’s annual conference in St. Cloud.

Washington was the district’s athletic director 1996–2012 and prior to that worked as a physical education and health teacher and assistant principal at Patrick Henry High School.