Minneapolis Public Schools leaders cut an additional $4.8 million from the district’s 2018– 2019 central-office budget this past month, after the School Board voted to restore $6.4 million in cuts to middle and high schools.
Superintendent Ed Graff and his team cut an additional $1.5 million from the district’s human resources department, nearly $670,000 from its academics department and $610,000 from its information technology department. They also revised their revenue projections upward by over $1.5 million, factoring in a $500,000 tax-credit rebate and a proposal from Gov. Mark Dayton to address special education underfunding.
“The implications of these reductions are wide-ranging, but with an eye to limiting service reductions as much as possible,” Graff wrote in an April 20 letter. “Nevertheless, with this round of additional central office reductions service delivery to schools, staff, families and community may not be as efficient and effective.”
The release of the additional cuts came 10 days after a 5-4 vote by the School Board to restore the additional funding for middle and high schools. The district distributes that money, called time-adjustment funding, to middle and high schools on a per pupil basis to add time to the school day.
Graff and his team had cut the time-adjustment funding as part of their plan for ending a projected $33 million budget deficit for 2018–2019. The deficit is due to enrollment declines, negotiated salary increases, increases in the costs of state and federal mandates and other factors, according to the district.
Supporters of the School Board’s vote on April 10 said middle and high schools faced disproportionate budget cuts that would leave schools such as Washburn High School unable to operate. Opponents said it would be a continuance of poor budgeting practices and could jeopardize other district programs and services.
The School Board’s resolution did not allow the district to make additional cuts to schools or lower its reserve funds beyond current levels, meaning the cuts had to come out of the district’s central office.
Central office takes cuts
In his April 20 letter, Graff wrote that he and his team stand by their initial budget recommendations, which he said they arrived at using an equity lens while considering structural changes necessary to create stability. He wrote that they maintained a commitment to the district priorities of equity, social-emotional learning, literacy and multi-tiered systems of support in identifying the additional cuts, despite a short timeline.
The additional reductions put the total cut to the district’s 2018–2019 central-office budget at $18.6 million. District leaders cut over 20 department budgets by a total of $14.2 million and required departments to absorb nearly $4.4 million in salary and benefits increases. They also cut school budgets by $14.8 million, making nearly $6.9 million in program adjustments and requiring schools to absorb $7.9 million in salary and benefits increases.
Graff walked through each of the department cuts at the School Board Finance Committee meeting on April 26. He said there was probably not one cut that didn’t affect students and that district leaders were trying to find ways to offset that impact.
Graff said departments under the purview of the district’s chief of Academics, Leadership and Learning cut the equivalent of nearly 56 full-time positions, including one of the district’s four associate superintendent positions.
The largest academics cut, at nearly $2.4 million, was to the district’s teaching and learning department, which subsequently eliminated the equivalent of 13 full-time positions. Graff said the cuts will require teachers and principals to take more time to ensure that curriculum and implementations occur, adding to their roles and responsibilities in the classroom.
The district also cut its special education department’s budget by $1.7 million, leading that department to eliminate the equivalent of 21 full-time positions. Graff said the district’s special education staff will receive less guidance from the special education department because of the cuts. He added that the department reduced clerical support roles, reduced its traveling health office and is discontinuing a pilot multi-tiered systems of support training, among other changes.
Outside of academics, the district cut over $2.4 million from its transportation budget after reducing its number of bus routes because of bell-time changes at 20 schools. It also cut over $2.1 million from its human resources department and over $1.8 million from its information technology department.
The district also made sizable cuts to athletics (nearly $500,000), research and assessment (nearly $379,000), finance (over $250,000) and communications ($275,000), among other departments.
“These are not easy reductions throughout the district,” Graff said. “There’s no easy solution, but I also feel like we’ve done our part with trying to maintain a high level of integrity and an equity lens and those priorities that we’ve set forth.”
Passes to full board
Graff said the district would have trouble hiring the most desirable candidates if the board were to again change the district’s budget recommendations. He added that the district would put its state aid at risk and would have to rely on its dwindling fund balance if the board does not pass the budget by June.
“The district’s better served by an improved and timely budget, as required by the state, than by returning to the drawing board for a small portion of what we’re trying to address here,” Graff said.
Still, the board doesn’t appear to unanimously approve of the budget. Board Member KerryJo Felder, who was elected from North Minneapolis, said she doesn’t feel like some of the board’s values came out in some of the cuts and that she wished she had more time to review the budget.
Graff said he, too, would have liked more time to evaluate the additional cuts, noting the months district leaders put into their initial recommendations. He noted that he has asked board members on numerous occasions throughout the school year, both privately and publicly, to tell him their priorities and values.
“I think that yes, it would be nice to have more time to have these conversations,” he said. “But I don’t know how else to present it other than we’ve had these conversations.”
The five-member School Board Finance Committee voted to advance the district’s 2018–2019 budget to the full board by a 4-0 vote. Board Member Bob Walser abstained, saying he didn’t feel like he had enough time to review the budget.