Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

With short-term budget fix in hand, Minneapolis school board turns to long game: school closures

A logo for Minneapolis Public Schools.
Logo for Minneapolis Public Schools
Tim Evans for MPR News | 2022

School is out for summer, but for Minneapolis Public Schools leaders the hard work is just beginning.

MPS Board Chair Collin Beachy told MPR News Wednesday that they’ll take advantage of empty campuses this summer to inventory space and start a lengthy process that may end with some schools closing. It’s expected to last through fall 2026. All schools will remain open until then but with fewer staff and larger class sizes for some. 

A budget passed Tuesday relied largely on one-time funding to close a $110 million deficit, Beachy said. To match its long-term fiscal realities, he added, the district needs to right-size itself.  

Minneapolis schools have seen enrollment drop by nearly 20,000 students since 2000. A report from the city auditor estimates total enrollment in the district built to serve 40,000 students will drop to about 23,000 students by 2027.

Next year’s budget cuts $41.2 million in direct allocations to schools, including funding for math and reading intervention teams that were helping students catch up from pandemic learning loss. The budget also makes significant cuts to the central office.

It does, however, reverse proposed cuts that faced pushback from parents. Those include fifth grade music, Hmong and Somali heritage language program staff and assistant principals at Jenny Lind, Nellie Stone Johnson, Lucy Laney elementary schools.  

“This has just not been an easy situation,” Beachy said. “There hasn’t been a school, a department or anything that has not been touched by these reductions. But I think that the superintendent and her team have done a great job and we’re on the right path toward making sure that we’re stabilizing and right-sizing this district.”

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation with Beachy.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: School districts around Minnesota face budget problems. Last night, Minneapolis Public School leaders passed a financial blueprint that tries to deal with the red ink. The Minneapolis School Board approved a budget last night that includes higher teacher salaries, but fewer staff members. Colin Beachy is the president of the Minneapolis School Board. He's on the line right now. Colin, thanks for taking the time.

COLLIN BEACHY: Thank you. Nice to meet you.

CATHY WURZER: Likewise. Minneapolis schools have faced, are facing, a $110 million budget gap. And that gap, as you know, has occurred for a number of different reasons. The solution, apparently, is to cut some programs and leave a lot of positions unfilled. Let's talk about the program reductions in schools. What will that look like? Well, I think the first thing that we're made sure that we tried to do was that any of these reductions that we had to-- the finance team had to go through-- we tried to keep them as far away from the classroom as possible.

With the large deficit that we had. That wasn't necessarily always something that we could do in every in every situation for every school. But we certainly tried to make sure that we kept whatever programming that we could for each school and each area of the school, area of the district. I think one of the biggest things that we're hearing right now so far are the class sizes in parts of the city and the loss of the intervention triads that we had put in with the pandemic dollars.

And so I think now that what we have to do this summer, now that this budget is in place, we've got to start taking a look at school by school and where some adjustments are being made and if there's some programming and some rebudgeting that we can do to make sure that these schools can be as successful as they can be.

CATHY WURZER: If I heard you right, you're talking about class sizes. Is it because about 4 or almost 5% of positions will be unfilled in the future? Does that mean that classroom aides might not be available, fewer teachers? What about that class size problem?

COLLIN BEACHY: Yeah, part of it-- it's sort of a mixed mixed bag, to be honest with you. The good news about it is that in some of these schools, the enrollment projections are higher than what we expected. And so that's obviously a good sign for the district. With these cutbacks, so in these reductions, some schools did have to take a fourth grade, there are some schools that had to take a fourth grade teacher out of their classrooms.

And so that is going to be adding to the number of students that we have with fewer-- with one fewer class, those students obviously have to be distributed into other classrooms. And so it's a combination of both of those things. But we have a higher enrollment than projected. But we also had to make these reductions.

And so, again, those are some of those things that over the summer time we will be going and taking a look at these schools and what their final numbers are, and if there's a possibility of us to be able to make some more adjustments to the budget to be able to get them some relief. Our issue is that whenever you make a cut somewhere, you've got to make a reduction somewhere else.

CATHY WURZER: Teacher salaries are increasing as per the contract agreement. But with a fair number of positions to be unfilled, will more money make up for an increase in workload? And you're a teacher, so I'm wondering how that sits with you.

COLLIN BEACHY: Yeah. I mean, that's the whole thing about it. My being a teacher here in Minneapolis for eight years, I understand what it's like to be not having all of the resources that you need. And so when we were going through our discussions, that was a lot of what the focus was on making sure that we're getting the teachers what it is that they need. And to start off with, they needed to have a the contract. We feel good about the contract that we were able to sign with them.

It's just now what's really been happening is that we've been sort of letting a lot of these schools make kind of their own decisions on how they're going to be dealing with some of these reductions. And so when we get to some of these situations where there are these cuts that are directly affecting classrooms, those are, again, I just keep going back to conversations that we're going to be having with principals throughout the summer about how we can make some of these adjustments to, again, get some of that relief to these teachers.

This has just not been an easy situation. There isn't a school, a department, or anything that has not been touched by these reductions. And it's just been a real stressful couple of weeks. But I think that the superintendent and her team have done a great job. And I think that we're on the right path in making sure that we're stabilizing and rightsizing this district.

CATHY WURZER: Just going to ask that question. So you have this budget blueprint. And so it sounds like you do feel pretty comfortable that you are on the right path to righting the ship, in a sense.

COLLIN BEACHY: Yeah. I feel optimistic. I know that it's not going to just rightsize itself and just a matter of a year or two. There is more work that we're going to have to do. Some of the money that we use to kind of close this budget this year is one time funding. And so we do have to make sure that when we're moving forward on stabilizing this, that there are other reductions in things that we have to do with our transformation process. And we're going to be looking at some schools, seeing if we have to close some of these schools and consolidate some of these things.

Hopefully when we do that, those are all different areas that necessarily don't need money coming in. They're decisions that we can make here and how we're spending our money and distributing it to our schools.

CATHY WURZER: So that sounds like that discussion about potential school closures and consolidations comes maybe next year.

COLLIN BEACHY: Well, we're actually going to be starting doing some of that this summer. We need to be talking about walking through, looking at some of these schools that might be a better time to be doing this when there aren't students in there. But we need to look at what the school capacity is. We need to look at if the school is even set up for the way that it's supposed to be. I know that there were some times we're walking around in some of these schools and you've got elementary school students in a classroom where they've got all their science equipment. And it's just not conducive to their learning.

And so all of those things we have to look at. And it's got to go school by school. So it's going to take some time, which is why we need to start right away this summer.

CATHY WURZER: All right, Mr. President, thanks for taking the time.

COLLIN BEACHY: Yes, I really appreciate it. Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Likewise. Collin Beachy is the president of the Minneapolis school board.

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