Monthly Archives: June 2015

Michael Goar: PR Me ASAP

Good news. The Minneapolis Public Schools has hired a new Communications Director to replace the iconic Stan Alleyne, who resigned (I’m told) in the wake of Michael Goar’s ascendancy to interim Superintendent status. (Stan’s second in command, Rachel Hicks, also left MPS in recent months.) Plewacki

Now, MPS can do their spinning in-house, I presume, and maybe cut loose the “outside public relations consultants” Goar has been working with, according to the rather flattering “tough guy” portrayal of him in the June 29 Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Outside PR consultants? Sounds expensive. I wonder if they helped write the piece in the Star Tribune. Consider this:

“Goar’s willingness to implement significant changes is a departure from previous interim school leaders.”

Translation: MPS should really hire this guy, asap. Look what he’s doing, even as interim Supe.

And this:

“At the end of each day, his secretary gives him about seven folders with copies of e-mails he needs to respond to, appointment requests, his calendar and other pending matters. He said he takes them home, makes dinner, watches some basketball and goes through each task.”

Translation: He works really hard. MPS should hire him.

There’s more:

“Goar is rethinking other long-held practices. He instructed staff to meet with various branches of the military who want to be able to recruit in Minneapolis and offer students scholarships and job opportunities.” 

Translation: Military service! Why didn’t we think of that?! MPS should hire this guy, and quickly.

College is so expensive anyway, and lots of kids are probably dying–no pun intended–to join the military. Especially since it seems like this whole war thing won’t be ending anytime soon. More grunts are certainly needed, and of course they’ll be treated like champs when they return–great health care, jobs, peace of mind…right?

There may have been very good reasons for restricting military recruiting in our high schools–such as the data-driven evidence that says the military’s youngest soldiers are the most at risk for mental health problems, alcohol abuse, and anxiety disorders, etc.

And then there is this warning from a commentary piece in that radical publication TIME magazine

“In its rush to find the next generation of cyberwarriors, the military has begun to infiltrate our high schools and even our middle schools, blurring the line between education and recruitment.”

But we certainly don’t want to take away from Goar’s hireability index. And, the PR consultant who may or may not have planted the pro-Goar piece in the Star Tribune made sure to throw a few zingers at the Interim Supe, for that all important air of neutrality:

  • He’s so tough he even makes RT Rybak “uncomfortable”
  • He’s a “micromanager.” (Boo! And he wants to head up a bureaucracy?)
  • There have been some “setbacks in gaining the community’s trust” for Goar 

    Matt Groening

But, Goar has the last word, in true PR fashion:

“’There are always going to be people who will still be unhappy,’” he said. “’This is not a popularity contest.’”

Becoming MPS’ next Supe may not involve winning a popularity contest (especially when you are the kind of person-in-charge who is fond of “not holding back“).  But the help of a few well-placed PR consultants probably never hurt, either.

Minneapolis Public Schools Special Ed Director to Teachers: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

In an attempt to quiet the growing storm over proposed changes to the citywide autism program she oversees, Minneapolis Public Schools special education director, Rochelle Cox, sent a letter to district special ed teachers on June 23.

The letter seeks to clarify MPS’ reasons for altering its popular citywide autism program and comes on the heels of  a month’s worth of mounting pressure–mostly from parents unhappy with the district’s actions. Rochelle Cox

Here’s a brief timeline of events regarding changes to the citywide autism program, which provides intensive autism support for students, along with access to mainstream classrooms:

    • May 21: Many autism program parents and teachers first learn of MPS’ plans regarding the citywide autism program. These plans include directing more autism students into regular ed classrooms in their neighborhood schools, and out of the specialized autism programs at various sites throughout the district. Parents say they only found out about these changes through word of mouth. They say there has been no official announcement or communication from MPS.
    • May 22:  Parents push for a meeting at Burroughs Elementary, which has citywide autism programming. Special ed administrators Rochelle Cox and Amy Johnson–both of them new to their jobs–are in attendance. Parents say they expressed deep concern over MPS’ move to discontinue citywide programming by “starving the programs” out (and not informing incoming kindergarten parents that the programs even exist). The gist of the parents’ views? Gratitude for the “centralized resource of staff with Autism Spectrum Disorder expertise”  they have found in the citywide program. This conflicts with MPS administrators claim that families are asking for their children to be sent to neighborhood schools.
    • End of May–Early June: Parents pepper school board members and district administrators with impassioned appeals for, if nothing else, a pause in the district’s efforts to restructure the citywide autism program. 
    • June 9: KARE 11 news station erroneously reports that the Minneapolis school board voted to approve changes to the autism program. The Minneapolis Star Tribune then picked up the story. It was false. Further confusion and frustration ensues for those following this story.
    • June 9-22: Various local media outlets touched on MPS’ plans, with varying levels of context and insight. On June 22, the Minneapolis Star Tribune publishes a short article about the issue, and focused it primarily on parent reaction to MPS’ plans. Also on June 22, WCCO news does an overview of the situation, featuring Rochelle Cox’s arguments in favor of the changes: 

  • Week of June 22: I write a few blog posts about all of this. (Hint: You are reading one of them!)
  • June 22: Minneapolis parents put together a petition and call it “Preserve the Rights of Students with Autism.” It has over 800 signatures as of June 25.
  • June 23: MPS spins out some damage control via special ed administrator Rochelle Cox’s letter to Minneapolis special ed teachers.

Here is a snapshot of Cox’s letter, which was forwarded to me:

I would like to provide updates and clarifications regarding changes to our autism program for next year. As we move to strengthen our capacity to serve more students with autism in their community schools, some resources from Autism Citywide Programs have been shifted to provide special education services to students with autism in their community school.

In order to “strengthen our capacity to serve more students with autism in their community schools,” MPS will be closing some specialized autism classrooms and laying off experienced teachers and assistants. 

Rochelle Cox's June 23 letter

Rochelle Cox’s June 23 letter


But, the good news is, according to Cox’s letter, MPS will be hiring “3 autism itinerant teachers” who will be tasked with supporting “students with autism at community schools.” 

I am no autism expert, but “itinerant autism teacher” doesn’t quite jibe with what I do know. (I am picturing a child with autism being asked to “hold that meltdown” while an itinerant teacher rushes across the city to help.)

Never fear. Cox has got this:

As you know, having students receive their special education services in the general education setting benefits both students with and without disabilities.  Inclusion provides opportunities for both non disabled youth and youth with disabilities to navigate childhood together, supported by adults who create space for children to learn and grow together.

Sounds wonderful. Does this mean MPS will also be lowering class sizes across the district and hiring a bevy of experienced assistants who will be trained in not just “special ed,” but autism, in order to bring about this “learning and growing together” thing?

Minneapolis parent Nikki Fortuin (and not Anne Ursu, as originally posted), who has been vocal about her objections to the proposed changes, has another approach to suggest (bold font is Fortuin’s):

Why not a pilot?

My understanding is that the first discussions regarding this plan took place in December. All of the district leadership people implementing this change are new to their position, having taken their positions within the past year. Why are people new to their positions leading a major rollout in August without consulting with stakeholders first? 

In a letter to school board members and district administrators, Fortuin also called out the lack of the frequently touted “stakeholder input”:

Why not listen to the parents and teachers in the trenches? 

Every parent I have met with a child in the Citywide Autism Program is grateful the program exists. I’m sure the staff must appreciate the ability to consult with and support one another in the program schools. Why is new leadership at the district trying to reinvent the wheel? PARENTS ARE HAPPY WITH THE CITYWIDE AUTISM PROGRAM! IT WORKS!! KEEP IT!! 

Ah, well. Not to worry. Cox’s letter ends on a happy, welcoming note: 
Please don’t hesitate to ask questions. We also plan on providing more information when you return from summer break. 
Have a fun and restful summer!

Will Minneapolis’ “Best Inclusive Special Ed Program” No Longer Exist?

As Minneapolis Public Schools administrators move to dismantle the district’s popular citywide autism program, parents of current and future autism program students are fighting back.

A brief article by the Minneapolis Star Tribune on June 22 tapped into the brewing discontent over MPS’ plans for the citywide program, which involves sending “level 1 and 2” autistic students (considered higher functioning by the district) to their neighborhood schools rather than to autism-focused sites throughout the city.

The district says this move is about providing more “resources” to neighborhood schools, and about mainstreaming special ed students.

But a group of Minneapolis parents with kids in the autism program are not buying these arguments, and in the last 48 hours they’ve gotten active, putting together a petitionintended to “preserve the rights of students with autism”–and sending out a press release outlining their complaints. 

The press release was sent via email by Emily Goldberg, whose five-year old twin boys are students in the citywide autism program. It does not mince words. Calling MPS’ stated reasons for taking apart the program nothing more than “rhetoric,”  the parent-crafted document offers a blistering critique of the district’s stance.

Here’s a look at the press release, called “Rhetoric vs. Reality” and signed by over 30 parents (bold type and font color are part of the document):

  1. The District Says: Our new plan will allow more inclusion.The Truth Is: The autism program is already inclusive. It is arguably the best inclusive special education program in Minneapolis Public Schools and is currently recognized statewide for its inclusion and successful education of students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The ASD licensed teachers and ASD trained staff give students the support they need to function in a mainstream environment. Teachers say the Citywide Autism Program also allows more inclusion opportunities for (Federal Setting III) students than they will have in the new plan.  

    The change the district is making will put more students with ASD on the caseloads of resource teachers (SERTs) who do not have knowledge of and expertise with ASD; the job does not require them to have the training to know how to educate and support these students. Without proper support, many students will fail academically, behaviorally, socially and emotionally—and will need to spend more time in special education settings.

  2. The District Says: The autism program is not being closed. We only closed three classrooms to fund supports in neighborhood schools. The Truth Is: It is effectively being dismantled. In addition to officially shutting down three classrooms, the district also quietly closed off several more program sites to incoming students this year, with the clear intention of starving out those sites. Teachers have been ordered to remove all references to the Citywide Autism Program from the adaptations specified in current students’ IEPs. The program was designed to serve students…who required a high level of support by staff who have expertise and knowledge in Evidence Based Interventions; now, it will no longer be available to the majority of kids it was built for. (Higher needs) students no longer have access to modeling and increased inclusion opportunities, and some will be served in classrooms with kids of other disabilities and lose their individualized support.
  3. The District Says: This is not about budget cutting.The Truth Is: There is no other rational explanation for these changes. Or if there is one, no one from the district has shared it or consulted with teachers and families. How much money will the district save in five years when there are no Federal Setting I & II students left in the program and the majority of current Autism Program site schools are closed down?

    Why is the district cutting access to early childhood ASD classrooms and raising caseloads from 6 students with ASD to 8 students with ASD in a classroom? Providing intensive interventions when children are young can improve the prognosis for when they get older. Many of the autistic behaviors can decrease or cease. Increasing caseloads to 8 will make it almost impossible to meet the individual needs of the students and turn this essential service into a day care. What reason for that is there besides budget?

Other areas of dispute are outlined in the letter, such as push back against the district’s classification of some students as “mildly autistic.” There is no such thing, the parents say:

Even kids who appear to function fairly well in the classroom much of the time can have violent outbursts, severe sensory deregulations and debilitating anxiety issues. They may sit quietly in the classroom but not learn. Sometimes kids’ classroom behavior is affected for minutes, other times for months. Their needs can change on a dime, and can be hard to identify without ASD knowledge and training. These children need special education services (Evidence Based Interventions) specifically tailored to the characteristics and needs of students on the Autism Spectrum. This is why the Citywide Autism Program exists.

The letter ends on a cautionary note, and with a plea for reconsideration from Minneapolis officials:

We…foresee disruption for general education students, and school-wide frustration for general and special education staff across the district. We predict this will lead to many students and staff leaving the district for greener educational pastures, while the children of families with less means will be left behind to fail.

We urge the district to keep all of its students’ best interests at heart. Please put a halt to this hastily implemented plan that will not serve anyone well. All of our city’s children deserve better.

Minneapolis Public Schools administrators, the ball is now in your court.

Shell Game? Minneapolis Public Schools to dismantle citywide autism program

I like waking up to a good Twitter exchange, especially when it concerns one of my favorite subjects: the Minneapolis Public Schools. 

This morning, the Tweet that started it all was a shout out to Minneapolis Star Tribune education reporter Alejandra Matos, who did a wee bit of poking into Minneapolis’s recent “family friendly” decision to stop providing its well-regarded citywide autism program:

“A little more deeply” is right, but it’s a start. 

Minneapolis has been offering a citywide autism program for years, where kids with autism get access to regular classroom experiences and the best of the best autism services, with real deal teachers trained in working with autistic kids. Here is how Matos describes it:

In the program, about four or five autistic students are assigned to a classroom with a specialized autism teacher, assistant teachers and aides. The children are also assigned to a mainstream classroom led by a teacher with experience teaching students with autism. The students often stay together from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Parents love it, apparently, with one even referring to it as a “gem” that the district “should be showing off.” And so the district is dismantling it.  For the kids’ sake, of course:

District officials say they want to free up more resources to serve students in their community schools, and federal law requires the district to serve students in the least restrictive way possible. They say the change will allow more inclusion into mainstream classrooms across all schools.

But parents say their kids have always had the option of inclusion and mainstreaming, as well as the option to send their kids–autistic or not–to their community school. Now, the difference is they won’t have the option of citywide, intensive programming staffed with autism-trained teachers and assistants.

Whatevs. Minneapolis Public Schools “Chief Academic Officer” Susanne Ziebart Griffin doesn’t really need parental or school board input anyway:

“I acknowledge parents’ concerns,” said chief academic officer Susanne Griffin. “These are their children. They want the best for them.” Griffin said that decisions to close classrooms are made all the time. “This is not uncommon.” The district does not need a board vote to make these changes because it is not a matter of policy.

Griffin had me at: “This is not uncommon.”  But not everyone is buying this blithe little brush off:     

Ow. “A shell game with services at the expense of students’ education rights.” 

That sounds like something worth digging into, a lot more deeply.


Will love find a way to save the MTI?

Could this be the key to education reform, all wrapped up in the words of a Minneapolis high school student named Ja’Meyah? Here, Ja’Meyah responds to a question from one of her teachers, Josh Zoucha:

“When you get to know people, and they make you want to come to school, and they make you want to do right, then you start to do right, and you start to like it, and you start to enjoy coming to the place, and you don’t want to do nothing to lose those people and make them stop liking you, so you gotta be good, you know? And you gotta come to school because they want to see you just as much as you want to see them.”

Image from the Minneapolis Teachers Institute

Josh was asking Ja’Meyah to reflect on why she was coming to school more, and why she had zero suspensions this year, but 14 last year. He also asked Ja’Meyah about her absences: 

“Last year, in the fall, you had 48 absences. And, you had only earned 2.75 credits and 7 days of suspension….This year you’ve earned 14.5 credits…and 0 days of suspension. What’s the difference between last year and this year?”

Josh recorded his interaction with Ja’Meyah, and on the recording, it is clear the two have a bond. Their interaction is casual, familiar. Love-based. 

But not accidental.

Josh participated this year in the Minneapolis Teachers Institute (MTI), a year-long, voluntary professional development program for Minneapolis teachers. It was created by long-time education practitioner Lisa Arrastia, and funded by the Minneapolis Public Schools’ Office of Equity and Diversity.

Part of Josh’s task as an MTI fellow this year was to develop a close relationship with one of his students at Minneapolis’ Edison High School, where he works, and that student was Ja’Meyah. Here is how Josh describes the assignment, and its impact:

…(MTI) asked us to partner/adopt a student for the year.  We had guided questions and documented our discussions for the year by journaling, recording, and asking deeper questions about life.  My students name is Ja’Meyah…and she has made some of the greatest gains towards graduation in our program.  As of September no one believed she was going to graduate and as of right now she is at the very least going to walk and most likely graduate, which in her own words is a miracle.  I believe this is not only because of the…program at Edison but also the relationships that were built within the process of MTI. 

Teaching today can seem like a blood sport, with teacher-baiting the main form of entertainment. Politicians and edu-experts everywhere can often be found gleefully smacking their lips and placing bets on this: 

NJ governor Chris Christie, putting a teacher in her place

How much can we belittle and demean those  lazy, union-loving thugs who choose to enter the classroom and work with kids before they cry uncle and limp away? 

Josh even touches on this, in a letter he wrote in defense of the MTI–which is, sadly, on the chopping block in Minneapolis. The district has deemed it “too expensive,” and has shut down the department–the Office of Equity and Diversity–that funded the MTi.

“Education has a high burnout rate, and I have felt it, but after this year (with MTI), I have felt refreshed, renewed, and it has honestly been one of my favorite years in education.”

In place of the MTI, which offers a project-based, love-focused approach to education reform, Minneapolis administrators have proposed a cheaper, faster alternative, using “culturally relevant pedagogy training.”

In response, MTI fellows have flooded the district, and school board members, with impassioned testimonials on behalf of the MTI. Like this, from Minneapolis high school teacher Morgan Fierst:

The stresses, pressures, and violence that students and teachers face on a daily basis are profound and cannot be ignored.  The Minneapolis Teacher’s Institute is the only real professional development that I have come across during my tenure in the profession.  MTI is the only professional development that has stopped me from seeking a new career, but more importantly, the only PD that has rejuvenated my spirit and grounded me so I could reconnect with my passion and energy for this work.  I know many people are concerned about getting rid of the “bad” teachers in our district.  I understand and appreciate this concern.  But I think we need to be just as mindful, if not more, about keeping our great ones.

 I beg of you to reconsider this decision and learn more about MTI and bring it back to our school district. We (teachers, students, administrators, families) need it!

MPS administrators then settled on a form response to these letters from teachers. Here is an excerpt from it:

Thank you for your email regarding the positive experience you’ve had with the Minneapolis Teacher Institute. It’s always great to hear how MPS professional development opportunities impact teaching and learning.

As you noted, MPS will no longer provide MTI for subsequent teacher cohorts. However, MPS is committed to continuing the critical work we’ve been doing to ensure teachers and our school leaders are provided with the skills they need to be responsive to the needs of all our students, and especially our students of color.

Because of this, the district is moving toward a PD model that will reach more teachers, faster. 

In another note to Minneapolis school board members, Minneapolis’s “CAO” (or, Chief Academic Officer) Susanne Griffin told board members about the district’s prefab response to inquiries about the MTI, and prefaced it this way:

Below is a response that can be used for any inquiry into the status of the district’s professional development plans around cultural responsive teaching.

Because the current model for the Minneapolis Teacher Institute is not cost effective, the district has decided to provide culturally responsive professional development in house so that more teachers can be trained faster.

“A response that can be used for any inquiry” is probably not a response that anyone wants to read. And, reaching more teachers, faster, might look good on paper, but will it be satisfying? 

Here’s what one teacher has to say about that:

In my tenure as a teacher, I have attended many PD’s and often after the moment it started wondered when it was going to end, just hoping to get something out of it. With MTI, I was always disappointed when it was over.  I have attended different cultural responsive trainings in the past but have never been a part of anything like MTI.  I know I have been changed through my experience with MTI, I will forever be proud to call myself an MTI alum and I can’t express my disappointment that no one else will have this opportunity. 

I wonder what students like Ja’Meyah would have to say about this, given the opportunity.

SBA? No way

Should SBA stay or should it go now? That is the question.

Minneapolis school board members will be deciding soon-June 23whether to love SBA or leave it, as they make a final vote on the school district’s budget for next year.

Wait. What? What is SBA?

SBA is short for “Student-Based Allocations.” Simply put, it is a fresh new way to carve up a school district’s pot of money by:

  • First, giving every kid in the district a “base” per pupil funding amount and
  • Second, adding more funding on to that base amount, according to a student’s level of need.

Example: kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch would bring a certain extra amount of money with them to school, as would kids learning English, or homeless kids, or even “advanced learners.” All of this “extra” money could only be used to address the specific need it was targeted for, meaning funds spliced out for, say, advanced kids could only be used to…advance them further, I guess, via special classes or an extra tutor. 

What these exact categories are and how much they will be “worth” have yet to be decided by MPS admin–although they’ve been trying to sell SBA as the next great thing for over a year now–making it tough to know exactly what SBA is or will look like. 

Kids who don’t fit into any of these extra categories would just receive the basic, per pupil funding amount. But this amount, for every kid in MPS, will be lowered under SBA, because that is where the money for the “extra categories” will come from. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, sadly.

Does this make sense? No? I didn’t think so. Let me turn things over to MPS parent and budget guru Gwen Spurgat, who has been tracking MPS’ awkward unfurling of SBA for a year now.

Here are some of Gwen’s questions and conclusions about SBA:

SBA is an ALEC tool

  • SBA is a funding allocation model based on ALEC’s Student-Centered Funding Act, which is basically a school voucher scheme, where public education dollars “follow” students from school to school. If a student (consumer, in ALEC’s world) decides he or she does not like their school, they can just pull out and take their money to another school, creating instability and, possibly, leaving our most vulnerable students behind. 
  • This model is a cookie cutter approach which funds each school with a BASE amount for each student, and then gives more money to individual students, depending on their needs.

Sounds great, but…

  • While I know we can do better in need-based funding for our students, a major shift like SBA is not needed because Minneapolis already allocates funds to students based on their needs. 
  • Example: One recent board presentation showed the difference in budgets for two schools of similar enrollment numbers but with very different student populations:  Lucy Laney, the high needs school, receives twice the funding as Lake Harriet, a basic needs school. This is because money already “follows” the student, via federal, state, and district-level funding.
  •  In fact, “Minnesota as a state has an A rating for equitable funding, with only 4 other states,” according to school finance expert Bruce Baker’s National Report Card.
  • Even Reason, a free-market focused organization advocating for the new SBA/weighted student funding structure, already gave MPS one of their highest ratings (based on the district’s support of the ALEC authored bill .
  • So…MPS already does student-based funding. As it should.

This new SBA model will not be an effective solution:

  • This new model does not promise MORE money for our schools. Instead, it is simply a way to carve up what our schools are already receiving. This makes this SBA model a way to redistribute inadequate resources. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • The redistribution would look like this: Every student (regardless of need) would have his or her BASE funding amount reduced in order to allow MPS to carve up the funding pot in new ways. So, if all students in MPS currently carry a $4,000 BASE per-pupil amount with them (this is just an approximate number), in order to free up funds for SBA, every student’s BASE funding amount will have to be reduced. 
  • Although it has been tough to get clear and specific info regarding SBA from the district, the BASE funding amount that MPS has published is nearly $1000 less per student than some schools currently get! This will force class sizes of 43-47 at Lake Harriet, and as well as at Hale/Field, Burroughs, Kenny and several other schools (because there won’t be enough per-pupil funding to pay for enough teachers to keep class sizes reasonable).
  • But because the BASE funding is reduced, even our high needs schools will see reductions in core classroom teachers.

Let me repeat: even schools that gain funding in SBA will lose basic education dollars while getting more dollars for their students with higher needs.

For instance, Lyndale Elementary School in south Minneapolis,  with a population of 71 percent kids in poverty, could lose funding for almost 2 full-time teachers under SBA. BUT, they would “gain” 4.0 teachers who are not general classroom teachers but instead work with students on specific needs (special ed, English language). This means class sizes at Lyndale could certainly rise.

And Marcy Open School in southeast Minneapolis, with a 47 percent poverty rate, could afford 3.2 fewer regular ed teachers, but pay for 1.7 more teachers for their students’ needs. This means letting go of classroom teachers (and increasing class sizes for all) and instead hiring teachers who can only work in specific areas. This is because SBA funds MUST be used ONLY on the specific need, and not on general classroom/school needs.

Class Size:

  • Under SBA, class sizes of 43-47 could occur in some MPS schools, causing a drop in both public schools enrollment and families choosing to stay in the city.
  • MPS is requesting a Referendum in November. Currently, the district’s referendum–at $65.8 million–is more than 12% of MPS’ budget. I believe the chances of the November referendum passing are slim if class sizes seem like they could rise to above 40 in some city schools.
  • Also, the class sizes at schools that lose funding in SBA will be hit harder than it appears.  For example Roosevelt High would lose 6.2 regular classroom teachers under SBA, but gain 3.8 special ed or English language teachers for their students with needs.
  • Lake Harriet Upper would be down 4.8 classroom teachers but be able to afford 1 more teacher for ELL and .5 position for our Special Ed students.  Hale stands to lose 5.5 regular ed teachers and gain 1.2 for their specific needs students.
  • So, in order to justify SBA and the redistribution of student funding, ALL students will lose out, and class sizes at some schools could rise to a clearly unacceptable point. Can we afford to send more families packing from MPS?
I have other grave concerns with this budget allocation model’s effectiveness towards equity for many students. My analysis shows:
  • High-needs schools, indeed all schools, will need to spend the funding meant for their students with needs on the general student population instead, simply to keep class sizes reasonable.
  • Students who attend small schools like Kenny, Pratt, Howe and North will not be adequately funded. In fact, Interim Superintendent Michael Goar has said there could be a subsidy provided to keep a very small school like Pratt or a school hoping to grow, like North, open. So, SBA would first take money away from these students, but would then be given back, via a subsidy. Is such shuffling really necessary? 
  • Students in lower elementary (K-3) schools will not be able to keep smaller class sizes with this funding. The target class size is 26 for grades K-2, and 32 for grades 3-8. But with SBA, each student’s BASE per-pupil amount will be reduced, in order to pay for SBA. This means schools will be able to afford fewer general classroom teachers, meaning class sizes could certainly rise.
  • All MPS high schools fare poorly in this new funding model and will not them be able to keep their current levels of education programming.
  • The successful 1:9 student/teacher ratio for reading and math at really struggling schools like Lucy Laney cannot be sustained with this funding model.
  • Low-poverty schools with class sizes of 43-47 is not equitable.  

I know we need to find ways to get the ELL and special ed students the funding they need, but decreasing BASE funding first, for all students, is not the answer. Instead, we should look to MPS’ Davis Center budget, where initiative after initiative is often rolled out, to the tune of millions of dollars. If we can’t afford to provide a basic education to all students, with reasonable class sizes, maybe we can’t afford some of these shiny new initiatives.

How closely, really, have we examined the district’s own budget for excess? It seems to me that would be a better place to look for extra dollars for our students, instead of simply engaging in an ALEC-fueled, SBA shell game.

In truth, MPS supports a wide range of school settings, such as this:

  • Small schools (Howe, Pratt, North, Kenny),
  • Large schools (South, Southwest)
  • New programs (Ramsey), magnet programs (Dowling, Folwell, Marcy, Barton), language and culture programs (Hmong Academy, Emerson Spanish Immersion, Anishinabe)
  • Community programs (Hale, Hiawatha, North East Middle School), split campuses (Lake Harriet Upper and Lower, Keewadin/Wenonah), IB programs (Whittier, Anthony), Highly fragile Special Ed programs (Harrison, Hospital agencies), and other special programs (High 5, Transition Plus).  

We are not a cookie cutter district.  Do we want a cookie cutter budget formula like SBA?  Will that really make MPS more equitable?  My data and analysis says no.