Should Minnesota redraw school district boundaries?

State's school districts
Jim Grathwol holds up a map of the state's current school district boundaries, which he says is no longer logical nor does it serve the needs of children. Grathwol is lobbyist for the Minneapolis school district, which is considering adding a proposal to redraw all of the state's district boundaries in its 2011 legislative agenda.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

Jim Tadlock has been living in the People Serving People homeless shelter for the last month.

Tadlock, who had to move when the home he was living in was lost to foreclosure, has never been homeless before. He's trying to hold things together, especially for his two sons, and has arranged for them to ride a bus to their schools in suburban Robbinsdale. He's worried they might be kicked out.

But if Tadlock's sons were to attend a closer school in Minneapolis, some of the extra money the state gives schools for each student affected by poverty wouldn't follow. Minneapolis officials say thousands of children switch districts every year and the state allocation never follows quickly enough.

The state could better serve children, like Tadlock's by redrawing school boundaries in a way that does not concentrate poverty, according to Jim Grathwol, the lobbyist for the Minneapolis School District.

Grathwol said the state could redistrict school districts the way it does legislative ones, so no single district becomes too concentrated with poverty over time.

In the Twin Cities, each metro district could be designed to be part-urban core, part-suburb and exurb. Instead of 30 metro districts with widely-varying rates of poverty, Grathwol envisions four or five metro districts.

One district could extend, for example, from downtown Minneapolis to Wayzata. Children there wouldn't necessarily have to go to school downtown, but Grathwol said the larger district would be a more efficient government entity.

Jim Tadlock
Jim Tadlock is living with his two sons at the People Serving People homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis. He has been able to keep his sons at the same school they attended before they moved to the shelter, but he says their grades are suffering.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

"The question," he said, "is what's more important -- adult needs to have districts the way we've always had them? Or do find a way to more effectively deliver education to our students?"

Grathwol's point is highlighted by the fact that about 1,000 children live in downtown Minneapolis's three largest homeless shelters, where Tadlock lives.

"I've never been through this kind of thing, so I'm a rookie," said Tadlock, 49. "Some of these people have been through this before and it's a little easier for them. I don't know what the hell I'm doing."

He said being homeless has been hard on his sons, 16 and 13.

The oldest is "failing miserably right now -- and he's a smart kid," Tadlock said. "And my younger one -- he always gets straight A's and now he's getting suspended for fighting. So obviously he has anger issues."

Moving to a closer school in Minneapolis might help, but school district officials are concerned about how they could handle extra students without the state's poverty allocation.

Rethinking the way the state draws school boundaries might help, Minneapolis School Board member T. Williams said.

"The legislature and governor are going to have to set some limits and terms and say 'we are going to drag you into the 21st century screaming and yelling,'" said Williams, who is leaving the board in January.

T. Williams
Minneapolis School Board member T. Williams, who lost re-election in November, supports the idea to redraw the state's school district boundaries. Williams' concern extends to infrastructure; he says the metro has too many schools for the student enrollment.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

Williams said population trends don't justify eight high schools within 10 miles of Southwest High, but there they are: Washburn and South in Minneapolis, Richfield, Edina, Bloomington's Kennedy, St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Robbinsdale.

He thinks leaders should come together to design a mega campus, designed for today's tech-heavy students, that draws from the entire area.

"We can't stay where we are - our schools will die on us," Williams said.

Scott Croonquist, a lobbyist for the 30 Twin Cities area districts, thinks the idea has merit.

"I think we have to look at a total redesign of public education," Croonquist said. "I don't know that this is the answer - it's a provocative idea, certainly, and one that should be talked about. But there might be other ideas, as well."

Even though Minneapolis officials don't expect the redrawing idea to pass next year, at least one legislative leader is also willing to listen.

State Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington, who will become chair of a key education committee when Republicans assume control of the House, wants to enact education reforms next year. He said he won't dismiss any idea, as long as it is based on data.

The Minneapolis School Board will decide Tuesday night whether to include the boundary idea in its legislative agenda.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.