Minneapolis school board signs off on district restructure

Students from Lucy Craft Laney Community School
Students from Lucy Craft Laney Community School kick off the Minneapolis Public Schools State of the Schools event on Aug. 26, 2016, at Orchestra Hall while Superintendent Ed Graff applauds. The school board on Tuesday approved a plan to redraw attendance boundary lines.
Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News

Updated: 3:34 p.m. | Posted: 5:18 a.m.

The Minneapolis public school system will operate a lot differently come 2021. The board approved a plan 6-3 Tuesday to redraw attendance boundary lines. The move comes after weeks of discussion and hours of passionate public testimony about the controversial proposal.

Hundreds of parents left voicemails that were played before the board took action on the Comprehensive District Design, also known as the CDD. Some parents felt strongly about uprooting their school communities, while others regarded the plan as the kind of change that would achieve equity.

School communities across the city already feel divided. That's because certain neighborhoods have typically received more funding and resources than others. The CDD plan has created even more divisiveness.

"I'm absolutely dumbfounded and dismayed and amazed that you guys are continuing with the CDD plan when there is so much turmoil right now," said Chris Riemenschneider, a parent of two students who asked the district to delay the vote until things calm down with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Mikisha Nation, a parent of three African American students in the district, urged the board to move forward.

"I know you're going to get pressure given COVID of why are we doing this now. Shouldn't we just wait until things get back to normal,” she said. “If we're really honest with ourselves, normal wasn't serving the needs of all of our students long before we ever heard of the coronavirus.”

School officials say the CDD will finally address long-standing achievement gaps based on race and income. It would move about 14 percent of the more than 35,000 students to new buildings. The district plans to integrate schools, shift funding from busing to educational programs, and add resources to underserved schools. All of that, they say, would help students receive a better, well-rounded education.

The district’s leaders say students, staff and families will begin noticing changes as soon as this fall, but the district's grade, staffing and building reconfigurations would not begin until the 2021-2022 school year — at the earliest.

Superintendent Ed Graff said that staff professional development would begin over the summer.

“We are going to be making updates to our academic programming in the upcoming school year such as including and purchasing new math curriculum, fine-tuning our kindergarten, first and second grade literacy focus,” Graff told reporters on Wednesday.

Board member Kimberly Caprini has spent hours at past board meetings watching officials implement policies that she says deliberately took resources away from the north side of Minneapolis. Caprini, who's black, says her own children have lived through disparities that the CDD plan is trying to solve.

"This is academic justice. It is academic justice for a system that has failed black and brown children,” Caprini said. “I cannot in good conscience delay this vote.”

The plan aims to reduce racially identifiable schools. It would centralize magnet programs like dual immersion, arts and technology, moving them to new locations. Those magnet schools would become neighborhood elementary schools.

A screenshot of maps.
The Minneapolis School Board passed the Comprehensive District Design which centralizes magnet programs and creates neighborhood elementary programs in their place.
Minneapolis Public Schools

Magnet and dual immersion schools are popular and many families of color don't want to have to switch out of programs that are working for them.

Board members say the district must address enrollment declines, with 63 percent of Minneapolis students choosing to attend elsewhere. Board member KerryJo Felder said the new district boundaries would hurt enrollment in north Minneapolis schools. “The idea is great, but we haven’t seen how it’s going to work,” Felder said.

The plan would cost $11.5 million, with ongoing hefty costs in the future. Parents Tuesday night said they worry about financial implications of the CDD.

Their comments come at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has put thousands of people out of work, including Minneapolis taxpayers.

Superintendent Graff said that it’s important to move ahead with the district redesign plan even in the middle of a pandemic.

“The biggest challenge presented by COVID-19 — the inequity of education with distance learning — illustrates why the Comprehensive District Design is necessary,” Graff said. “The CDD, again, is a collectively developed response to the fact that our school district is not equitably serving all students.”

Jenny Arneson said the board's discussions didn't start with boundary changes or grade configurations. They started with educational disparities and it's why she voted to move forward with the plan.

"Every family has a unique story about how they came to be at a particular school and we hear that passion over and over,” Arneson said. “So I've asked myself many times why press forward with this difficult conversation that will certainly leave many unhappy and I go back to the beginning of this process.”

Minneapolis public school officials say pieces of the district design could change as implementation moves forward.

MPR News reporter Elizabeth Shockman contributed to this story.