District restructuring plan is approved

Information on the Minneapolis Public Schools redesign plan.
Graphic by Valerie Moe

The School Board has approved a multimillion-dollar restructuring plan over continued objections from parents who have pressed district officials on how the effort will alleviate budget challenges and stubborn racial achievement gaps.

The Comprehensive District Design (CDD) plan, approved on a 6-3 vote May 12 during an online meeting, will redraw attendance zones and centralize magnet-school programming in buildings closer to Minneapolis’ geographic center. It will also cluster most high school career-technical education classes at Edison, North and Roosevelt high schools and reshape special education to focus more on providing services in neighborhood schools.

KerryJo Felder (North), Bob Walser (Chain of Lakes and Downtown) and Ira Jourdain (Southwest) voted against the plan.

District officials have said the plan will allow for streamlined busing routes, better integrated schools, healthier North Minneapolis enrollment, equitable access to magnet programs and potentially less teacher turnover.

They said the transportation savings will allow for more programming investments and better options for students who receive special education services.

Parents have said the plan doesn’t address academic shortcomings, and they urged the board to keep existing magnet programs and more of its grade K-8 schools and to avoid creating larger middle schools.

Some vowed to leave the district. Many blasted the School Board for taking the vote during the coronavirus pandemic and requested a formal study of the plan’s effect on marginalized communities.

“The wholesale destruction of what is currently working is not the way to restructure to achieve quality outcomes for all children in the district,” Minneapolis resident Julie Steinberg wrote in a public comment to the School Board. “This will result in enrollment declines which will snowball into even greater budget deficits.”

Officials have said they may see enrollment declines in the early years but that they expect enrollment to stabilize or increase in the long term. They’ve also said that some of the district’s widely heralded programs aren’t serving students of color particularly well.

The CDD has its roots in budgetary shortfalls announced in February 2017 and in fourth-year Superintendent Ed Graff’s efforts to decrease 50-plus-point proficiency gaps in standardized test scores between white students and the district’s largest non-white racial groups.

The first CDD draft, proposed in spring 2019, clustered schools and magnet programs in newly drawn zones but was criticized for causing unnecessary disruption and not addressing segregation.

The latest efforts began this past fall, when district leaders modeled out a community-school map that aimed to balance enrollment and increase integration. District leaders tweaked the map throughout the winter, as they layered in new magnet programs and high school boundaries and looked for bus-route efficiencies.

The final map, offered up in late March, has attendance zone boundaries that loosely adhere to official neighborhood boundaries, though a single school often covers multiple neighborhoods.

Criticism of the plan has been most intense at South Minneapolis magnet schools, which will have new programming, boundaries and/or grade configurations.

Fewer schools would meet the district’s limit for racial isolation, according to enrollment projections, but some of the elementary schools would be significantly smaller.

Seven of the eight middle schools would become larger, and the district’s seven community high schools would each have an enrollment of at least 775. That includes North High School, where enrollment is projected to grow to 1,138 from 361. The building can hold 1,860 students but hasn’t had over 1,000 in years.

Southwest High School’s enrollment is projected to decrease by about 701, as the school will no longer draw incoming freshmen living north of 36th Street unless they open enroll beginning in fall 2021.

The plan will cost $2.8 million next school year, as the district prepares to fully implement it in fall 2021. The district projects that it will cost $11.5 million in 2021-22 and $10.7 million each year thereafter, most of which will be used in schools. It plans on paying for those costs through transportation savings and state funding that targets achievement gaps.

The district is also proposing an additional $202 million in capital projects over five years to support the CDD. Over half of those funds would go toward upgrading North and outfitting it for career-technical education courses.

The district estimates that the plan will bring it out of compliance with its policy to keep annual debt-service payments below 15% of operating revenues by the 2023-24 school year. School Board finance chair Kimberly Caprini (At-large) said she’s talked with chief financial officer Ibrahima Diop about ensuring the district stays in compliance with the policy.

Boundary and program changes will be implemented in fall 2021. High school students who are already enrolled will not have to change schools.

Past Southwest Journal CDD coverage:

Dec. 22: “Demagnetizing Southwest schools”

Feb. 5: “Plan would change high school paths”

March 6: “Grappling with high school changes”

March 20: “District’s plan scrutinized as deadline nears”

April 29: “School Board’s comment-picking process criticized”