Schools Notebook: District pledges support for Phillips Pool

Donation seen as the start to a broader collaboration between schools and parks

As it took a step toward contributing financially to the Phillips Pool project in June, the School Board also laid the groundwork for a broader collaboration with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

A resolution approved by the board June 18 declared the district’s intention to contribute $1.75 million in capital funding to the pool’s planned renovation and another $150,000 annually through 2020 for maintenance. The plan is to include the agreement in a memorandum of understanding with Park Board by July 15.

The resolution called for the MOU to go far beyond just the Phillips Pool, however, committing the district and Park Board to a wider partnership on facilities and programming. That partnership would give Minneapolis Public Schools athletics teams priority scheduling at some parks-owned facilities.

Invited to address the School Board, Park Board President Liz Wielinski said the goal of the collaboration was to create “a seamless process for kids in Minneapolis to participate in youth sports and especially to learn how to swim.”

Expanding access to swimming lessons, especially for children of color, was motivating factor behind the pool project.

Nationally, the fatal drowning rate is almost three times higher for black children than white children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, and the disparity is greater in Minnesota. African-Americans make up the largest single demographic group in the neighborhood immediately surrounding the pool, according to U.S. Census data compiled by Minnesota Compass.

The agreement the district and Park Board are working toward calls for a six-lane pool with a smaller four-lane training pool. Some in the community have long advocated for an eight-lane pool, and that difference of opinion played out in a debate that lasted longer than an hour at the School Board meeting.

An amendment offered by Board Member Rebecca Gagnon and seconded by Board Member Tracine Asberry would’ve put eight lanes into the language of the resolution. Gagnon argued an eight-lane pool was more “sustainable” because of the revenue it would generate hosting large swim meets.

Weilinski said the Park Board already had committed to six lanes in April when it approved a $5.4-million renovation plan. The gap in funding the Park Board predicts even with a smaller pool would only grow larger if it’s built with eight lanes, she said.

“No matter what pool we build, we will be operating at a deficit,” she said.

Weilinski said the cost of maintaining an eight-lane pool would force the Park Board to delay other projects and potentially close facilities. The need to raise revenue would mean renting out the pool more often for swim meets, limiting access to the pool for the community, she added.

Gagnon was not persuaded, and suggested “other partners” in the community would “jump” at the chance to participate in the eight-lane pool project. She noted the Park Board was already committed to going ahead, with or without district support.

“I would rather see us leverage our capital dollars for increased benefit rather than supplant what the Park Board was going to do,” Gagnon said.

Gagnon’s amendment failed to pass. A second amendment, to table the resolution a month or more for the Park Board to consider the eight-lane plan, failed to win a second.

Board Member Nelson Inz implored his colleagues “to take on faith what our partners come to the table with,” and trust Wielinski when she said the Park Board couldn’t afford an eight-lane pool. Board Member Carla Bates said the board shouldn’t ignore, either, the “historic” nature of the broader partnership proposed in the resolution.

Terms to be negotiated in the MOU are expected to include priority scheduling for district athletics teams at several parks facilities, including Parade Ice Garden, Northeast Ice Arena and Parade Fields. A softball field at Todd Park would be rehabilitated for use by the Washburn High School softball team, and the Park Board would commit to completing work on Bossen Field Park in South Minneapolis by 2018.

Other items on the table are swimming lessons and lifeguards for district students, and pledges to collaborate on capital planning, programming and scheduling. The resolution passed with Gagnon casting the only “no” vote.

The same night the School Board pledged district financial support to the Phillips Pool, it also took action to cover a nearly $21.7-million shortfall in its 2014–2015 budget. A cost-savings plan made up just more than $9 million of the shortfall, and the School Board approved the use of nearly $12.6 in reserves to cover the rest.

The School Board also approved an $823.4-million expenditure budget for 2015–2016.