Corporations to give Minneapolis Public Schools $13.8 million

Bernadeia Johnson
Bernadeia Johnson, superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Four major Minnesota-based corporations announced Monday they will give nearly $14 million to Minneapolis Public Schools.

Target, Cargill, Medtronic and General Mills have pledged to spend the money over the next three years to fund academic and personnel development programs.

Nearly half of the $13.8 million will be donated by Target. Target Foundation President Laysha Ward said the company will focus its contributions on early literacy programs.

"When a recent study at the Annie Casey Foundation shows that one in six students who do not read proficiently by the third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater when compared to proficient readers, we're compelled to do more," Ward said.

Other money will fund new and current efforts to promote science and technology learning and a program that helps low-income students prepare for college. Representatives from the corporate foundations behind the contributions, like Kirsten Gorsuch of Medtronic, say the programs are crucial to building a future workforce.

"We recognize that Medtronic's continued success, and more importantly, the improved health of the world will depend on a steady stream of innovators that bring new ideas to the table. And that starts with strong public schools," Gorsuch said.

The rest of the money will fund an effort to attract and retain what school officials call "high-performing" principals and administrators.

This effort comes on the heels of an independent study released last month that was critical of the Minneapolis schools' leadership structure. The study's author said administrative employee morale is low and the central office is perceived to be out of touch with the community and the schools.

Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said one of the greatest challenges facing the district is finding principals with the kind of background many Minneapolis schools need.

"We have good principals in the district, and we will continue to support them," Johnson said. "But we also know that if you look at the pipeline of leadership within the system, as well as outside, we need to do a better job of attracting folks who specifically have had experience with turnaround schools."

The district has several turnaround — or low-performing — schools. The district also faces another challenge. Proposed budget cuts at the Capitol could mean a loss of $27 million in state funding to the district.

But Mark Murphy, director of the Cargill Foundation, said that's not why the companies are making new contributions to Minneapolis Public Schools.

"We all are confronted by the same budget realities, for all our favorite things," Murphy said. "But I would say all these companies have demonstrated a long-standing committment to the schools. And this is just taking it to another level."

The nearly $14 million contribution — however timely — is small next to the district's total budget. The district's 2010-11 budget topped $684 million.

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