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As Minneapolis Public Schools prepares to unveil a new roadmap, some parents push back

MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
“This plan to close K-8s and eliminate successful integrated magnets does nothing to help struggling schools or to bring families back to this district,” Anjula Razdan, a Barton Open parent told board members last night.

Parents and students from two south-side Minneapolis schools — Barton Open (K-8 magnet) and Windom (K-5 Spanish Dual-Immersion magnet) — filled the school board meeting room Tuesday evening.

For the better part of three hours, they filed up to the podium during the public comments session to talk about how they value the diversity, programming and strong sense of community at their schools.

So why, they pressed, is the district floating models that would close these two schools? 

The district’s response, at this point, centers on a basic detail lost on many impassioned parents: a draft model, with specifics, hasn’t been released yet. 

“Nothing has been decided. There’s no model,” Director Kimberly Caprini said in her closing remarks, in a near-empty room that had been packed full during the public comments portion of the meeting. “So when I hear people talk about a school closing, it boggles my mind. Because programs can move. No one is trying to close the schools that were brought up.”

On Jan. 24, the district will be releasing up to three Comprehensive District Design proposals. These drafts will be presented to the board on Jan. 28. Following a number of public comment sessions, the board is expected to make revisions and adopt a new strategic plan in April. 

All of this decision-making will take place as district leaders grapple with financial constraints that are largely driven by declining enrollment and chronic underfunding in public education at the state and federal levels. The district is facing a $19.6 million budget deficit for the 2021-21 school year; shortfalls are projected to increase each year.  

Parsing out parents’ concerns

Much of the pushback from parents, at this point, stems from a two-part boundary study that the district asked its transportation company, Edulog, to conduct. The charge of that study was twofold: look for potential transportation savings and look for ways to boost integration based on race and income level. 

In one scenario, the company drew up a model that reduced the number of magnet schools from 12 to seven and centralized them. These changes would likely result in six fewer schools with a poverty level over 80 percent; and 10 fewer racially identifiable schools, staff reported when the board reviewed these studies in the fall. 

To the alarm of some parents, this model also left out K-8 schools altogether — a grade configuration that drew many parents to schools like Barton Open when seeking out school options for their children. 

A group of sixth-graders from the school praised the diversity and experiential learning opportunities and buddy program at their school that matches elementary students with middle schoolers — the sort of thing many parents who spoke credited with helping middle-schoolers stay grounded and supported as they sort through identity issues. 

“This plan to close K-8s and eliminate successful integrated magnets does nothing to help struggling schools or to bring families back to this district,” Anjula Razdan, a Barton Open parent told board members last night.

She urged board members to consider the effectiveness of K-8 schools at retaining students as they transition into the middle-school years, the lower suspension rates at K-8s than at stand-alone middle schools, and the impact to larger immigrant families at her school who seek out a K-8 setting. 

A number of Barton Open Somali parents, including Hawo Hassan, mother of three elementary students, spoke about the importance of keeping their children under one roof through middle school.

Parents and students from two south-side Minneapolis schools filled the school board meeting room Tuesday evening.
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
Parents and students from two south-side Minneapolis schools filled the school board meeting room Tuesday evening.
“Due to the change that’s being proposed, it will be difficult to drop my kids off at several schools. That’s one of the reasons I’m here today,” she said, adding she also has concerns that the plan would increase racial segregation. 

Many parents who addressed the board with pleas — and, in some cases, ultimatums stating they’d leave for a charter or open-enroll in a neighboring district if they’re not pleased with the outcomes of the district’s new strategic plan — also spoke of a desire to make changes that will lead to more equitable outcomes for students across the district. 

Commitment challenged

It’s a commitment that those from the north side are quick to challenge.

Heather Anderson, a white mother of two black students, reminded people that the district’s resources are limited. 

“There are a lot of things that are working in the south and southwest parts of our city. But there are many broken things in north and northeast. I believe that we cannot continue to leave two parts of our city alone to make one part work,” she said. “I would like us to think of all of our children. And that would mean that some parts of our city might have to give some things up.” 

Offering her concluding comments, Director Kerry Jo Felder, representing District 2 on the north side, said the public comments session had left her feeling “overwhelmed.”

She then pointed out that the part of the district that she represents currently only has one magnet school, one mainstream K-8 school and zero dual-immersion schools. 

“I appreciate everyone coming out. I especially appreciate those parents who could take the time to change the lens a little bit and remember that there are other areas out there that are suffering just a little bit more.”

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 01/15/2020 - 02:47 pm.

    Rather than penalize schools and programs that are working and are popular with parents, why not try to emulate them in the less successful schools?

    Any redrawing of boundaries and reshuffling of programs will require studies and consultants and administrative costs. Why not use the same money to implement the successful programs elsewhere?

  2. Submitted by Sheila Kihne on 01/15/2020 - 05:25 pm.

    Please go back and review Minn Post’s coverage of the exact same issues in Eden Prairie schools a decade ago– re-configuring grades and boundary changes to balance for income/”equity”. I’m amused by the Minnesota media’s coverage of that story and the coverage of Minneapolis parents’ concerns.

    We were all labeled angry racists for the exact same concerns.

    Now, go look at Eden Prairie’s racial demographics and test scores by school. You’ll find the concerned parents– of all demographics and political stripes– were correct. Our whitest/most-affluent school is the Spanish Immersion magnet school– it’s a private school within the public school system. The plan did zero. The families that left for Minnetonka schools never came back.

    Time to buy some real estate in Minnetonka and Wayzata– methinks the Minneapolis parents will be out in droves after the district pushes their plan through– and they will.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 01/15/2020 - 10:19 pm.

      You have a point. And Eden Prairie just had an initiative to raise taxes to help improve schools. Many mentioned losing people to Minnetonka as a reason. Meanwhile in Minnetonka and Wayzata, people are complaining that too many people out of the district are enrolled pushing up their property taxes. I go back to an equitable state funded equation. The whole thing has gotten out of hand. And many in the suburban districts are now sending kids to private schools (well not sure about many but significant) to avoid public schools as their population of kids with high needs grows). We keep throwing money into programs without evidence that they work. I use to think busing was the answer, but now think quality neighborhood schools in every area is what we need with equitable funding instead of relying largely on property taxes.

    • Submitted by Brian Simpson on 01/15/2020 - 10:52 pm.

      You are correct

  3. Submitted by Brian Simon on 01/15/2020 - 06:00 pm.

    Some friends gave me an earful on this issue last weekend; their kids are at our neighborhood K-8 school. What is interesting to me, from this article, is that the consolidation is from a proposal by the transportation company. The underlying message is that transportation is a growing challenge for MPS. I know one of my kids had a cancelled field trip this year, because there weren’t enough bus drivers. Likewise, school start times are staggered so one driver can make multiple runs – do a lap for a 7am school, another for an 8 & a last run for the 9:00 start. Even then, it’s apparently getting harder to find willing, qualified drivers.

    Perhaps some creative parents might look into figuring out whether there are enough parents to augment the ranks of drivers in order to ensure their schools can adequately transport kids?!?

  4. Submitted by Brian Simpson on 01/15/2020 - 10:47 pm.

    Wow, Kimberly Caprini. That must be the most tone deaf comment made during this entire process. We’re not ‘closing’ schools. We are just ending the programming, reassigning most of the children to other schools and then restructuring the shell of a school that remains. But hey, we are not ‘closing’ closing the school building so why you are all freaking out? Right?

    I can’t believe she actually said that out loud. I’m embarrassed for her. I can’t believe I voted for her. When all of us parents pull our kids from the district, the money goes with them. This plan will bankrupt MPS.

    • Submitted by Sheila Kihne on 01/16/2020 - 10:52 am.

      We replaced the entire school board and ousted the Superintendent in Eden Prairie. The new board was elected as a slate and then did nothing to change what had happened. They were too chicken to be called racists & bring the Spanish Immersion school in check & go back to regular boundaries for neighborhood schools. It’s just a friendly warning to concerned Minneapolis parents. You can’t fight City Hall most of the time. You can elect an all new board & they won’t do a thing. Staff runs the show at the schools.

      I’m a private school parent and the number one reason I have for that is: “stability”.

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