Mpls. schools plan includes closed schools, fewer magnets, less busing

Getting to school
The Minneapolis School District is recommending that not every student be provided bus transportation. Students who choose schools outside of proposed 'home areas' might have to find their own transportation.
Photo: Barry & Smith

The Minneapolis School District wants to close four of its buildings, move some operations to other schools, and get rid of five magnet programs.

Those are some of the recommendations in a far-reaching re-organization plan that will be presented further at a school board meeting Tuesday night.

The goal is to save millions of dollars but also make the remaining schools and programs more equitable.

At some point in the next two years, enrollment at Minneapolis Public Schools will fall below 30,000 students. It's a milestone that will mean even less money from the state and fewer students in a district that already has too much capacity and a deficit of $28 million.

School Board member Pam Costain says the district just can't afford to keep offering all those choices between community and magnet schools.

"I think we had too many choices and the choices were confusing and the choices were not equitable across the city," she said.

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The changes being proposed would affect thousands of Minneapolis students -- either because their school will close; their program will be moved; or because the districts will no longer pay for their busing.

MPS recommended changes

  • Split city into three zones, with a community school and 3-5 magnets in each. End open areas

  • Reduce magnet schools from 16-11 (Cityview Performing Arts; Kenwood Performing Arts; Northrop Urban Environmental; Park View Montessori; Pilsbury M/S/T all revert to regular community schools)

  • Close Pratt, Longfellow, and Northrop Schools

  • Move Northrop program to Folwell Middle School

  • Close Brown Institute Building, move Anishinabe Academy to Sullivan School

  • Consider building additions at Hiawatha and Lake Nokomis Keewaydin

  • Only provide busing for students attending schools in their home area (does not apply to ELL, special education students, Hmong Academy, or Anishnabe Academy)

  • To read the entire plan, click here

At the core of the changes is the splitting of the city into three zones: North and Northeast Minneapolis in one; southwest in another; and south and southeast in the third.

School meeting
The auditorium at Washburn High School in south Minneapolis was mostly full last week, during a meeting to dicuss the district's reorganization plan, which has since been unveiled.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

The exact boundaries will be set this summer, but the idea is to have one community school and three-to-five magnets in each area. That also means the end of so-called 'open areas,' which are parts of the city that don't currently fall within the boundaries of any community school.

If a student goes to the community school or a magnet in his or her area, the district will provide busing. A student can still choose a school outside his or her area, but the district won't cover transportation costs.

Citywide busing will continue, though, for some English Language Learners (ELL) and special education students.

The change points to the millions of dollars the district says it can save by not having buses criss-crossing the city all the time.

Enticing students to stay in their zone could also put more pressure on the district to increase quality at all schools.

"Your zip code should not determine what type of quality you have access to," explained deputy superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, at a community meeting last week. "We have to work on every school in minneapolis and make sure that we make it a great school for every student in their community."

The zones, though, are just one of many aspects to the plan.

Three of the city's smallest K-5 elementary school buildings will close: Pratt, Longfellow and Northrop. Northrop currently houses an environment-themed magnet school that will move to Folwell School, but the magnet program will go away. Also, Folwell School won't house 6th-8th grade anymore.

Along with Northrop, four other magnets will go back to being regular community schools: Cityview Performing Arts, Kenwood Performing Arts, Park View Montessori, and Pillsbury Math/Science/Technology.

The district will also close a building at a prime spot - Hiawatha and Lake - which could be a windfall if the land is ever sold. The building houses the American-Indian-themed Anishinabe Academy, which will move few blocks away and share a campus with Sullivan School. The fate of a popular weekend farmers' market at the Lake location has not been determined.

All of the city's high schools will stay open.

School Board member Tom Madden says he expects "some people are going to be surprised because they haven't heard anything about it, even though we've been doing this for a year.

"Others will be relieved, and others will feel bad. We're not talking about something where someone's a winner and a loser. With continous funding declines from the state and other issues, we're all losers. We're trying to make the best of it."

The entire plan is expected to save as much as $8.5 million a year, which will help address - but won't solve - the current budget deficit.

Minneapolis is not the only urban district doing this. St. Paul is going through a so-called "large scale system change" that's also expected to result in school closings. Some Minneapolis officials went to Boston, New York and Chicago to see how they handled similar efforts.

The district will now hold more public meetings to discuss the plan -- a final vote from the school board is expected in one month. All the changes will take effect in the fall of 2010.