Question #2 – MPS owns a number of school and administrative buildings. Some school buildings are closed and for sale; others are being held in reserve. Given all the interlocking factors, what decision do you think the Board should make about the future of MPS administration facilities, and how should this fit with an MPS master facilities plan?”
The MPS Parents Forum has posed a number of questions to all school board candidates and then published their responses on the forum. Thanks to the MPS Parents Forum for agreeing that the TC Daily Planet may republish these responses.
Here is some background:
• Two buildings recommended for closure in the Changing School Options Plan (CSO) and featured in Headquarter (HQ) proposals-1250 Broadway and the Lehmann Center in Uptown-currently have altermative high school programming and administrative functions co-located on their sites.
• Webster and Wilder are former schools that now house administrative functions, early childhood programming, and a Southside Welcome Center.
• 807 Broadway contains all back-office functions, service sheds and storage, and public meeting space for the Board of Education. 2225 East Lake/Brown, recently vacated by Anishinabe when it moved to Sullivan this school year, has been suggested as a possible Southside Welcome Center/Adult Basic Education site as a joint project with the City of Minneapolis.
• Long term location of maintenance and workshops, as well as book and furniture storage are unclear in the HQ proposal. Transportation and food service are located in separate buildings and will remain where they are. Staff recommend consolidating all central administrative staff into a single site, and reducing the size of the administrative workforce through improved efficiencies. Compelling financial rationale for making the decision has been offered by Chief Financial Office Ingison and Chief of Operations Liss. Community leaders from the two Broadway sites have testified about the redevelopment and stabilization values of these projects.
• There is no firm plan for Welcome Center and Adult Basic Education until a decision is reached about the central administrative building and final staff requirements. MPS announced they would present the “Master Facilities Plan” for school properties this summer, identifying all the improvements and expansions needed to support our expected student enrollment for the next 5-10 years. Three of the affected alternative student programs whose buildings will close this year are going to Wilder, 2225 East Lake, and North High. The fourth alternative program in Folwell (scheduled to close at the end of the year), does not yet have an identified destination.
At Large, City-Wide (2 seats open)
The administrative building and the relocation of the district headquarters has unfortunately become the one of the key issues surrounding the school board election. Student achievement is the key issue and concern facing the district. I strongly believe the students are the lost voice in this discussion and their thoughts overall have been overlooked. The empty buildings represent students, families and communities that have been impacted. We also need to focus on supporting and retaining the best teachers in the district. I have spoken with many teachers who are overwhelmed with the amount of changes that are occurring. The best teachers are not free to do their best work in this type of environment. We have to work together to build a more positive work culture: a culture that supports innovation and creative solutions. We will need creative solutions to resolve the facilities issues within the district.
I agree that there are many interlocking factors and as a candidate I am at a disadvantage when it comes to a well informed response to this question.
What I can describe is my process in gaining a deeper understanding related to the number of schools, the administrative building and the unused district space. I am in the process of reviewing the proposals, speaking with internal and external stakeholders (including delegates) to gain perspective on all sides. I tackle issues by researching , looking at the data and listening to parents, students, community members and teachers.
It is my sincere hope that the administrative building does not become yet another issue to divide and distract our community from focusing on the children. It’s about our children!
Chanda Smith Baker
At Large Candidate MPS
Since we don’t have a MPS Master Facilities Plan, it is hard to definitively say what decision the Board should make about the future of MPS Administration facilities. What we are seeing is the cumulative effect of an inconsistent and often times behind-closed-doors process. The community is not supportive of building a new HQ because the case has not been effectively made. Additionally, it is viewed as another example of the Administration directing the Board rather than the Board governing the District and insisting that we have a comprehensive plan before spending millions of dollars.
If the new HQ fits into a master plan, that’s perfect. But we shouldn’t be doing this simply because there are federal incentives to go into more debt during a struggling economy. Ultimately we should be asking the question “Does our plan improve the classroom resources?”
There are some important considerations with our facilities:
1. Reducing the number of empty facilities that we have to maintain.
It costs about $350,000/year to maintain an empty facility. That means we are spending around $4 million/year on empty buildings. We cannot continue to do this for another 5 or 10 years and expect to maintain long-term financial security.
2. Ensuring that our students are taught in, and our employees work in, a safe and healthy environment.
We still have schools with asbestos. Our Asbestos Compliance Management Plan indicates that there are 11 schools that do not have an Asbestos Management Plan. Fortunately, these 11 schools do not have any known asbestos in the buildings. However, the same Management Plan names 13 facilities that are known to have asbestos containing materials, in good condition, in the building. They are continually monitoring these materials for future damage. There is also one building that is known to have asbestos contamination in the attics, tunnels or crawl spaces. I would rather spend money on asbestos abatement and safety because asbestos presents a long- term concern and liability.
3. Future enrollment will dictate our facility needs.
We need to get a better grasp on the demographics of our City, such as the number of school age children and where they live. We can better plan for current and future needs once we have this data. Fortunately we have the 2010 Census which will provide us with data we otherwise wouldn’t have. Understanding the total picture in our City will better guide our decisions.
Of course, these are not the only considerations, but they are some important things to keep in mind.
Another thing that I have consistently heard from community members is, “Why should I keep voting for increased levies when schools keep closing and the money is being spent on administration rather than students?” That is a valid point and we must remember how our facilities decisions affect the support of MPS within the community.
It is imperative that we choose Board members who are able to identify the key considerations and critical questions that must be asked of our District Administration during the decision process.
David Joseph DeGrio
At risk of sounding flip or evasive, receiving this question on the forum at this time feels a little like we’re being baited into a debate on talk radio. The 807 decision is the elephant in the room. If what you’re trying to achieve here is to provide is an insight into candidates’ values, thought process and decision-making skills – great. Its pretty noisy out here right now. If people want to find out whether I’m pro 807 or pro 1250 W. Broadway, pro – North Side or pro-Northeast, pro-administration or pro-union, I’m not going to bite. I’ll assume your intention was the former.
“Given all the the interlocking factors” I think any board decision must focus on and reflect the best possible result for enhancing the district’s ability to teach kids. If this decision results in an immediate and progressive result that puts more resources in the classroom – terrific! If it is primarily based on seizing a federal incentive package and a cheaper construction costs due to a depressed economy – I’d certainly wait until the master facilities was completed by staff. Policies and capital investments should be aligned with the needs of other tax supported bodies, comprehensive and collaborative community development strategies and the best forecasting available. We don’t have a master facilities plan yet. In the meantime I’d focus on resolving our contracts with teachers, engineers and employees for the immediate future.
One thing is clear to to me and that is that we’ve lived with bureaucratic isolation, poor planning and erratic leadership for too long. As one who has had to manage through 19 shared-use agreements between the park board and school board I can speak first hand to the crazy mess we’ve created. Taxpayers can’t afford this proprietary division anymore and we have to hasten change. I am hopeful however. New leadership in the facilities department is emerging and I see a higher level of interest in student and community centered decision making. Board members should encourage this and expect better results faster.
Lastly, and more to the point of your question, form must follow function. Decisions about housing administration and operations management can’t be ignored for long and the size and role of administrative staff shouldn’t be made on traditional models or past assumptions. Many of those functions – and jobs – will be on the table as MPS and other districts look for ways to lessen “back room” costs, embrace technology and find economies that redirect money into classrooms. Its only way we can survive, let alone succeed.
Candidate for Minneapolis School Board At-large
I agree with Dick Mammen’s response. The condition of 807 administrative office headquarters is in bad shape as a result of deferred maintenance. I think we all agree that something has to done about the current situation, but the question that has yet to be resolved is how we to address the short-term and long-term goal of all the buildings owned by the district. I think the school board should have included this process in the Master Facilities Plan scheduled for this summer. I also think there should be a task force that includes staff, parents and community members to develop a comprehensive review of all the buildings. Now more than ever, the school board leadership must take action immediately to resolve the current issue. We need to have unwavering focus on academic achievement of our children and focus district resources directly on the classroom and student achievement.
Sorry, Kate; bad question! No wonder the retiring Board members have reported dismay about being overworked and underpaid if they are spending time in this way. These are operational questions or operational work that Bernadeia will have staff to do. I or any other Board member will have but One Voice, One Vote; an up or down decision to make on a staff recommendation. To do individual analysis on basically a financial decision; buy, sell or hold real estate (which I know nothing about) is nonsense.
As a Board member, my time and effort will be spent trying to enhance Board vision or attempting to make predictions about the future. Part of the Russian School of Mathematics will cover the subject, “Beyond 4 years……”. Our students becoming adults of tomorrow will function in a world very different than what we see today. Even by the time a freshman graduates, the world will have changed….once again. Tomorrow virtual classrooms will be daily talking points and questions about brick and mortar will be ancient history. Teachers are in an incredible position to effect outcomes that will speak to this change but I guess all they are concerned with these days is to argue about their employment contract of last year!!
Dick Velner – Grandparent, Teacher, Curriculum Principal and School Board Candidate
The decision to move forward with a building proposal to consolidate District administrative services at one site makes sound economic and educational sense. Currently the District occupies over 600,000 sq. ft. of office and storage space at 4 different sites. Square footage needed to accomodate the District’s needs at one site is approximately 300,000 sq. ft. This means that the District is paying for twice the space it needs. At $10 per sq. ft. in the market place, that represents $3 million. Consolidating the space needs at one site could save the District over $1 million per year which could be reallocated to meet basic program needs in our schools. If no action is taken to consolidate administration services occupancy costs will continue at 4 different sites and an opportunity may be lost to secure the necessary funding in a timely and cost effective manner. None of the school properties own by the District are suitable for renovating into functional office space. Moving forward with the buiding project is not inconsistent with developing a MPS master facilities plan. The need for an administration facility is a starting point in the facilities planning. A delay in beginning the administration project until a master facilities plan is complete is unrealistic. Time and cost are major consideration. Some critics of the project say that the District has been at its current site for 50 years, what’s the rush? A few more years won’t matter. A few more years will matter. Without a complete renovation of 807 or a new construction, the district will continue to spend money to occupy space at 4 different sites. I happen to believe we need the excess dollars the District will spend in not acting is needed to help improve the quality of teaching and learning in our schools. I’d rather have a shot at reallocating those resources to hire a teacher, keep a building engineer working or hire a school social worker. Think of how much money could have been saved if this decision had been made 10 years ago.
District 1 (1 seat open)
I believe the board should not make a decision on the administration facilities at this time. Committing $27,000,000 to an administration building before reviewing the master facilities plan is premature and irresponsible. Our primary focus needs to be on students and their needs. After we understand the capital needs of schools and how those needs can be addressed, we can then determine what is possible for an administration building. A decision to proceed with a new building at this point will have consequences for MPS and future boards for many years to come. It is not supported by many in the larger MPS community and will make future referendums and legislative support much more difficult if not impossible. It will further erode trust in MPS leadership by the very communities that we serve and make the task of attracting and retaining students more challenging.
The administration’s unwillingness to publicly substantiate their process and conclusions with detailed documentation is troubling. In addition, holding community meetings after the administration has made a recommendation was condescending to the parents, teachers and other stakeholders involved. Those meetings should have been focused on the rationale for a new or remodeled building and the financial justifications, rather than presentations by the developers. As many of us have come to understand, current MPS leadership does not understand community engagement, or at least chooses not to do it effectively.
If the board must make a decision among the three options, and again, I would argue that they should not; then the decision should be for the remodel of the current building. This is the least expensive of the three and has the flexibility to be done in stages as we can afford it and as school building capital needs are being met. I believe the wider community will have an easier time accepting repairs and remodeling of the current building than a new facility. I would urge the current board to delay a decision until the master facilities plan is carefully reviewed and all capital needs of the district can be assessed at the same time. We need to to be absolutely certain that students and their achievement remain at the center of every decision.
Jenny Arneson, Candidate for District 1
Given the difficult economic times and recent downsizing of MPS, any facilities decision must be one that will positively boost students’ learning. The needs of our students must continue to be our first priority. In addition, energy should be focused on settling our contracts with teachers, building engineers and employees.
I see the master facilities plan as the equivalent of a strategic plan for our facilities. In addition to how to best manage our physical assets, the master facilities plan must take into consideration city-wide urban planning. Collaboration with planners at the city level and Minneapolis Parks and Recreation is necessary to create a sustainable long term plan for our buildings. We will continue to see changes in our facility requirements with fluctuations of student populations and an increase in the role of technology in education. Flexibility, foresight and careful planning will allow MPS to adapt to evolving needs with fewer disruptions. Needs of our students including Early Childhood, adult learners, and special education students must be taken into account as we move forward with a master facilities plan.
School Board Candidate: District 1
District 3 (1 seat open)
This is not the sort of question to which a quick answer is appropriate. I anticipate that a decision on the central administration building will be made far before I take a seat on the board and I do not want to interfere with decisions of the current board.
If we have a facilities master plan in place, we would want to be clear how any decisions fits into the plan or goes beyond it.
As a new board member, I would want to fully understand the foundation for the decisions by the current board. In making decisions, I would want full information about the financial health of the district and the need for space.
We want to work with other agencies as much as possible to share facilities, but that is a complicated process. If we need to close facilities, I am aware of the political effects of any building decision on students, neighborhoods and the city. I would want to be able to defend our decisions with solid factual information.
MPS Board Candidate – District 3
District 5 (1 seat open)
The number one priority for the MPS board must be effective student learning and creating the right culture and and environment for teachers and staff to achieve this. MPS has had the very difficult task over the last few years of having to convince students, teachers, staff, parents and community members that because of our dramatic loss of enrollment in the past ten years and because of lack of adequate funding form the state, it had to close schools, limit busing, move kids to schools they don’t want to move to, lay off hundreds of employees, cut employees hours and reduce services. It is a very hard sell under these conditions to communicate to our stakeholders that we need to spend millions of dollars on a new building for administration.
We need to make sure that communications sent out by MPS are understood by all stakeholders and that they communicate a consistent message. We also need stakeholders to feel they are truly being listened to. My priority for capital investments would be to improve and fix school buildings. Unfortunately the current environment surrounding MPS has degenerated in a negative debate lacking civility. I believe that the first thing we need to solve at MPS is to treat each other with respect and to move to a collaborative environment. I believe all stakeholders at MPS are smart people of integrity that value above all in effective learning by all our students. There are just disagreements on how to get there. With that in mind, I disagree with the administration recommendation of constructing a new building, but I trust the integrity of those making the recommendation and that they are acting in the best interests of all MPS stakeholders. I believe that they truly believe that building a new building at 1250 W. Broadway is the most cost effective long term and the best for the district. I simply disagree with their conclusion.
I would rather use existing MPS buildings and remodel them as necessary to fit our administrative staff. In this age of high tech, we don’t need to house everyone in the same building. We can all be linked and work in collaborative teams if we use technology effectively without having to all be housed in the same location. But even more important, as we ask for our employees and parents for sacrifices that seriously disrupt their lives we need to send a strong message that we are all willing to sacrifice equally and that our priorities are as close as possible to the classroom. So I will wait for the master plan, but hope that it will use existing facilities in a way that avoids building new buildings and getting rid of closed school buildings, use technology effectively, send a clear message of shared sacrifice, and above all that focuses capital investments into classrooms. Lets also save as much as we can on capital investments so we can invest more in our students and the staff that are closest to them.
Candidate for Minneapolis School Board