The Minneapolis Board of Education appears positioned to pass the district’s 2018-19 budget next month, despite lingering controversy over the board’s vote to restore time-adjustment funding.
At least seven of the board’s nine members have said publicly or in interviews with The Journal that they will support the district’s $604.4 million general-operating budget, which pays for everything from salaries to transportation. That’s despite four board members and dozens of community members speaking out against the restoration of the line item, which provides extra funding to middle and high schools.
“I think it’s really important that we have to turn the page and we have to accept what is best at this point and make sure that we do our best by our students next year and every month going forward,” School Board Chair Nelson Inz said at the board’s meeting on May 8.
Inz’s comments came about a month after the board voted 5-4 to restore the item, which the district calls time-adjustment funding. The district distributes about $470 in time-adjustment funding per student to middle and high schools so they can add time to their school days. Some use it to help cover the costs of a seven-period school day.
The district distributed about $6.4 million in time-adjustment funding in 2017-18.
MPS cut the time-adjustment funding as part of its plan for eliminating a projected $33 million budget gap for 2018-19. The projected gap is due to enrollment declines, negotiated salary increases, increases in the costs of state and federal mandates and other factors, according to the district.
Superintendent Ed Graff announced the projected gap in early fall and asked School Board members for feedback on potential cuts during several meetings this fall. District leaders also surveyed the public on their values when it came to the budget and held multiple community meetings outlining potential actions.
In February, district leaders announced their recommendations for cutting the $33 million, which included cutting the $6.4 million in time-adjustment funding. The district also made cuts to its central office, changed bell times at 20 schools to create transportation efficiencies and required schools and departments to absorb salary increases.
The cuts hit especially hard at Washburn High School, which initially faced a cut totaling nearly $1.7 million. The school lost nearly $800,000 in time-adjustment funding and over $400,000 in federal Title I funding, which goes toward helping students who are performing below grade level in reading or math. The district redistributed Washburn’s Title I funding to schools in Minneapolis with the highest concentrations of poverty, though it later restored $241,800 in Title I funding for the school.
Washburn also lost funding because of a slight projected enrollment decline and the loss of one special education classroom, among other reasons.
The initial cuts forced Washburn leaders to eliminate over two dozen positions, including multiple counselor, security and dean positions. Parents at the school advocated for the board to restore some of the school’s funding and asked board members to consider their resolution to restore time-adjustment funding at all schools.
Board Member Rebecca Gagnon introduced their resolution in March, arguing that time-adjustment funding supports programs that can be key in bringing kids to school. Gagnon, KerryJo Felder, Ira Jourdain, Bob Walser and Siad Ali voted for the resolution on April 10, forcing Graff and his team to cut nearly an additional $5 million from the district’s central office over the next week.
Questions over equity
In an interview earlier this month about her re-election campaign, Gagnon said she felt like cuts to secondary schools were too steep. She said she put forth the time-adjustment resolution thinking it would spur additional discussion and potential solutions but that nothing else came forward.
“I’m a person that acts,” she said, adding that it was critical to make any changes in early spring so department and school leaders would have time to hire. “… I would much rather put forth solutions that allow things to happen in a timely manner.”
Still, not all board members agreed that the resolution was the right way to deal with the effects of the cuts. Board Treasurer Jenny Arneson noted on April 10 that the resolution could have unintended impacts on kids, especially in parts of Minneapolis with greater disparities. She said in an interview in mid-May that the reduction in the central-office budget will have real consequences, though the Superintendent didn’t have enough time to fully study those potential consequences.
Arneson also pointed out that schools in Southwest Minneapolis would receive more time-adjustment funding, because its secondary schools have greater student populations. She noted how the extra funding wouldn’t be that great of a help to schools that faced steep cuts for reasons other than the loss in time-adjustment funding, such as Patrick Henry and FAIR.
Arneson also noted the resolution disregarded the recommendation of the superintendent and his team.
In a letter after the vote, leaders of the district’s four largest labor unions noted that School Board members had time this fall and earlier this winter to voice concerns about the time-adjustment funding. Union leaders said that board members should have voiced any concerns about the potential cuts during those opportunities.
About 20 community members urged the School Board to rescind its resolution during public comments on May 8. Jill Pearson-Wood, a parent at Waite Park and Northeast, said the resolution felt like a betrayal of the process district leaders used to craft their initial recommendations. She said the resolution will end up hurting kids of color the most, adding that it leaves out students in K–8 schools.
“The board should set values and goals in the budgeting process, keeping the needs of the entire district as its priority,” Pearson-Wood said. “By passing this resolution, it’s stating that this particular line item is the most important thing.”
Several board members indicated in a subsequent discussion that they still weren’t happy about the resolution. But they noted Graff’s recommendation that they continue forward with the amended budget, because of the uncertainty that any further changes could create.
“The window of opportunity to make adjustments to what occurred has past us,” Graff said.
The resolution appears to have politically cost Gagnon, who began campaigning for a third term as an at-large member on the board this spring. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals criticized the resolution and did not endorse Gagnon for the open seats, instead offering support to Kimberly Caprini and Josh Pauly.
At the DFL convention on May 12, delegates endorsed Caprini and Pauly on the first ballot, with nearly 90 percent of delegates selecting Caprini and nearly 65 percent selecting Pauly. Gagnon received votes from about 31 percent of delegates.
In her response to a teachers union questionnaire, Gagnon said she would abide by her political party’s endorsement.
In addition to Gagnon, Caprini and Pauly, Christy Caez and Sharon El-Amin were also running for the DFL endorsement for the two at-large seats. Voters from across Minneapolis elect at-large board members.
The board has six seats specific to different areas of the city and three at-large seats. Voters in District 1, District 3 and District 5 will also elect School Board members this fall.
Arneson, Ali and Inz, respectively, hold those seats. Each is running for re-election and was unopposed in seeking endorsement from the DFL.