Monday night saw the first in a new series of community meetings in Minneapolis, as school officials seek public input on several proposals to re-organize district schools. The meetings are a continuation of the public input process which began in February, and was extended after angry reactions from parents at many meetings who felt their voices were being short-changed.
At a March 9 meeting of roughly 20 parents at the Little Earth Neighborhood Early Learning Center, in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood, participants were asked to rate their preferences for five scenarios – three options for re-organizing elementary and K-8 schools, and two for middle and high schools. The different scenarios have not changed substantially since they were presented in February, although Minneapolis Public Schools is no longer proposing that high school students take city buses in High School Scenario B.
MPS officials presenting the scenarios acknowledged that the total savings would not erase the district’s $26 million deficit. However, they said it would still contribute to healthier finances for MPS. Total savings for the re-organization plans run between $7.3 million and $11.3 million, depending on which options are chosen, along with several other possible cost-cutting measures outlined at the meeting.
In addition to rating their preferences for the array of scenarios presented, parents took the opportunity to discuss the options with MPS officials.
“This was a major commitment for parents,” said Martha Swanson of the district’s New Family Placement Center, who helped facilitate the meeting. “Our discussions were really productive, and parents were really delving into the policy and understanding the bind the district is in.”
For many parents at the meeting, it was important to safeguard the diversity of Minneapolis’ schools.
“As a member of the community, I’m looking at the ways resources are spread out” among schools, said Shanon Williams, when asked why diversity was important to her.
“As a parent, I’m looking for diverse schools because I think it’ll be a richer cultural experience for my children,” said Jane Goodnight.
At one of February’s meetings, in North Minneapolis, several parents expressed concern that maintaining a school’s diversity was being valued more than providing a quality education.
Despite the fact that few Philips residents attended, district spokesperson Emily Lowther described it as “a really good turnout.” Phillips is one of Minneapolis’ poorest and most diverse neighborhoods.
Lowther said the meetings had been advertised with take-home flyers at local schools, through the Family Engagement Center, with advertisements on “culturally-specific” radio stations, on the district’s website, and with news stories on Channel 5 and in the Star-Tribune.
“You just never know who’s going to show,” said Lowther, quoting Bill Ziegler, Executive Director of the Little Earth community organization.
James Sanna (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer, who frequently covers education issues.