Schools Notebook: Board approves five-year enrollment plan

The $222-million plan includes funds to build an addition onto overcrowded Southwest High School

The School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a five-year, $222-million plan to make room for a 10-percent increase in student enrollment expected by 2017.

The plan includes an addition for Southwest High School, adding seats for 450 students at an estimated cost of $40 million. Washburn High School will add roughly the same number of seats when it shifts some classrooms to the adjacent Ramsey Middle School building beginning in fall 2015.

A district of more than 34,000 students, Minneapolis Public Schools is just a few years removed from a decade-long enrollment slide. After shrinking by about one-third, it began adding students several years ago, and is now expecting about 3,400 to join the district over the next five years.

That estimate includes 1,000 new high school students in just Area C, the portion of the district that includes most Southwest neighborhoods, but the plans for Washburn and Southwest were also two of the most controversially components of the plan.

Board Member Carla Bates attempted to delay the changes to Southwest’s two high schools, arguing that they should wait until the district develops a comprehensive plan for its seven traditional high schools, which vary widely in enrollment and course offerings.

“You can revise programming,” Bates said. “Bricks and mortar — it’s more permanent. It should be.”

An amendment offered by Bates to “pause” the high school plan failed to win support. Several other board members echoed her call for a comprehensive high school plan, but said overcrowding at Southwest was a problem that could not wait any longer for a solution. District CEO Michael Goar also cautioned that a high school study would take months, and force the district to adjust the timeline for building the addition.

Added Board Chair Alberto Monserrate: “If I really felt we were taking away from another part of the city to give to that [Southwest High School expansion], I would not support that.”

District-wide, the opening of new school buildings and programs will add nearly 4,800 classroom seats. The enrollment plan was unveiled to the community in September and significantly revised twice, based in part on input gathered at a series of community meetings.

The final version contained additional resources for arts and language programs and boosted funding for schools offering the International Baccalaureate program.

For Southwest Minneapolis, the plan also promises an expansion of all-day kindergarten to the few remaining district schools that only offer half-day programs. It also creates new pathways for students in increasingly popular Spanish-language dual-immersion programs, routing students from Emerson, Windom and a new dual-immersion program opening at Sheridan to Anwatin Middle School and then Roosevelt High School.

Earlier versions of the plan made use of the district’s Wilder building near Powderhorn Park to relieve some of the enrollment pressure on Area C, where demand for classroom seats is strongest. But the final version put off the opening of a new pre-K–5 school at that site until fall 2015, allowing time for more community engagement, and also delayed the opening of a new citywide high school program offering an arts or college prep curriculum until at least the 2017–2018 school year.