Just before the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) and Educational Support Professional (ESP) strike started in March, some counselors at Southwest High School were informed some of their positions would be cut the following year.
During the strike, one demand of MFT and ESP was to decrease student-to-counselor ratios in the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) district. The agreed-on contract increases the hours and pay for educational assistance and raises for teachers, but does not address the student-to-counselor ratios.
The district told school officials that funding increased pay for counseling and social workers would have to come out of individual school budgets, according to Leif Kurth, a counselor at Southwest High School. Two counseling positions at Southwest High School will be cut next year in addition to his position as the clerical counselor.
“That’s something that was particularly frustrating for the counselors. (Counselors) knew going into it that they probably wouldn’t get everything that they wanted, but they would get something, and essentially, they’re getting nothing,” Kurth said. “In some instances, like at Southwest, they’re losing positions.”
The past year, counselors at the school had caseload sizes of around 425 students. Without two of the current five counseling positions, according to Kurth the remaining three counselors will have an estimated caseload of 525 students per counselor.
“I don’t even have words really to explain what I’m feeling in terms of like what this does for the students for next year. It’s hard enough for a lot of them to see counselors right now because caseloads are so big, but next year with caseloads being over 500 and then having nobody in there as an office manager to set up the appointments and to take care of a lot of the questions and concerns from parents,” Kurth said. “I just feel like it’s going to be a super hot mess with a lot of very angry parents and angry and frustrated students.”
Much of Kurth’s job is helping students with post-graduation plans by helping gather transcripts or holding meetings to go over important information.
“There’s just not going to be anybody upfront to help guide them to the right people or to just provide some of the answers that I can give them,” he said. “It’s going to cause a lot of confusion, and there are going to be some really big gaps between what they’re expected to know and what they do know because there won’t be an adequate passing of information.”
The district did not tell parents about the cuts, so the counselors wrote a letter informing parents of the changes.
“The people at the district were extremely upset that they passed that information along. I guess they wanted (parents) to find out by surprise next fall that their students are sharing a counselor with 520 other students,” Kurth said.
Impact on students
For students, like Southwest High School 11th grader, Tyler Boyce, counselors help with things like guidance for their post-graduation plans and letters of recommendation.
“The counselors have already built this relationship with most of the students because they’ve been with them since freshman year ‘til now where they are right now,” he said.
One of the counselors Boyce is close with is getting cut. Boyce was hoping to get a letter of recommendation for college from him, but now is worried about needing to get the letter before the end of the school year.
“It does kind of put stress on me because now I feel like I have to get some of this stuff done. This is the person I felt comfortable with, that I was able to talk to and kind of figure things out,” said Boyce.
He said he uses the counselors to communicate grades, high school graduation plans and college plans. And it’s already challenging to find time for an appointment, he said, making for a somewhat stressful situation.
“I think (counselors) are really important to Southwest,” he said. “To lose them, it’s kind of, kind of like, wow, we’re already struggling to gain meetings with them because of just not having enough counselors as it is right now, but to lose two or three … that’s even worse.”
2022-2023 MPS budget
In determining its 2022-2023 budget in March, the district considered attendance numbers at MPS schools, estimating that 1,000 students will not re-enroll next year. This estimate was based on enrollment data that showed 751 fewer students between October 2021 and April 2022.
While other schools are experiencing cuts as well, Kurth thinks Southwest was hit harder because of the decreasing enrollment numbers following redistricting in 2020. The freshman class size has reduced from 550 to just more than 300 a year in the past two years.
The district projected a loss of $6-$10 million in revenue based on its lower enrollment estimate. Adding the expenses of the new contracts, around $53.5 million, and loss in revenue from enrollment, the district estimated it must reduce expenses by $27.1 million for the 2022-23 school year.
Department budgets will be reduced by 5%, totaling approximately $8 million. MPS does not mandate which positions are eliminated; instead, each school receives a percentage of funding to reduce.
“As during every budget season, schools are allocated funding that they use according to school needs and district protocols. MPS does not mandate which positions are eliminated,” said Crystina Lugo-Beach, media relations coordinator for the district.
Cuts are then made at a school level, with school administrators needing to consider things like funding the core subjects, with class capsize of 44 students. At Southwest High School, decisions on which positions to cut were made when the budget was released in February, Principal Valerie Littles-Butler said.
“You get so much money to pay your bills, and you pay your bills,” Littles-Butler said. “When you get your money from the district, some things are allocated and that tells you specifically what you can spend it on.”
“They want to do all these things at the Davis Center (MPS headquarters). They have so many people up there doing stuff that, in the big scheme of things, does not affect the kids whatsoever, but they don’t cut those positions. They go right down to the schools and start cutting social workers and counselors and doing all the things that common sense would tell you not to do,” Kurth said.
In addition to the counseling cuts, the school has reduced people’s hours in the social work office and the science department, Kurth said.
Other MPS schools have received cuts to their counseling departments, including Olson middle school, Sanford Middle School, according to Jeremy Mattson, the president of the Minneapolis Metro School Counselor Association.
Some students think the district’s cuts may be a punishment for the strike, and others think it reflects on the school system.
“To me, I think MPS school system has been bad since the jump. They’ve never had enough money, and they’re always falling short trying,” Boyce said. “When I got to high school, I noticed more, like the budgets cuts are actually affecting us. I’m seeing now, literally losing counselors, losing teachers, all of this stuff is affecting us.”
It’s unclear how many MPS employees will lose their jobs until late May when the Finance and Human Resources departments approve revised school budgets, said Lugo-Beach.