This story was produced in collaboration with Minneapolis Schools Voices.
The Board of Education tackled a long agenda on Tuesday evening, including a presentation on fall student assessments and the proposed legislative agenda for the upcoming state legislative session. There was also a lengthy discussion about online tutoring services, which is reported on in detail here.
Over a dozen educators showed up to speak with the board during public comment time.
Public comments were dominated by educators who shared a range of complaints about vacancies, class sizes, and problems with the payroll department.
Of the fourteen speakers, thirteen were district educators and support staff, sharing a range of complaints about the district with the board, Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox, and cabinet members.
Kathy Sullivan, a kindergarten teacher, told the board, “I feel like we are in a dysfunctional relationship.” She says class sizes are too high, there is a lack of substitutes, and there have been ongoing errors with paychecks.
Brenda Johnson, an education support professional who has worked for the district for 29 years discussed ongoing issues with paychecks. “This summer I went without getting paid,” Johnson said. She called the payroll department “antiquated” and said that despite a tutorial from the district, she and others have difficulty reading their pay stubs.
FAIR High School ESP Jason Hartwig said, “If a parent asked me if they should send their kid to my school, by the quality of the staff, I would say yes. But by the state of the system and the district, I would say, if you have other options, I wouldn’t blame you for looking elsewhere.” Hartwig said that multiple educators left FAIR following the strike last spring, and conditions are now worse than they were last year.
“You educate my child, prepare to listen,” Angie McKraken, a school nurse and member of the educator’s union bargaining team last spring, said. At the meeting, McKraken raised her hands in celebration, noting that it was “good news” that her child will graduate soon. She said that classrooms are above class size caps in almost every classroom in one of the buildings she works in. (Note: The district has not released class size data for this school year, yet. Southwest Voices will share that data when it is available.)
Alex Ehrich, who works at Justice Page Middle School, said that four of seven special education staff members left Justice Page over the summer, and that morale in the building was low. Similar concerns about vacancies among special education staff were shared by Marcia Wyatt, a second grade teacher at Hall School.
Cox responded to the educators’ comments after the recess.
“I will begin by giving my commitment, to those of you who came here tonight and shared your comments, that MPS will follow our obligations and implement the terms of all of our employee contracts as they were negotiated, ratified by the members, approved by the school board, and legally executed by all parties,” Cox said
Cox acknowledged that the district’s Human Resources and Finance departments have been impacted by the tight labor market, making it difficult to recruit staff to fill vacancies.
Fall assessment data showed overall small gains in math and reading proficiency rates, while variation persisted across student demographic groups.
Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives Sarah Hunter shared the results of the fall assessments the district administers to every K-8 student. These assessments, called FAST, are given three times per year, in math and literacy, and typically last 20 minutes per assessment.
The fall FAST assessments show students are making some progress, overall, but variation in improvements and overall proficiency rates differs across student demographic groups. American Indian students in 2-8 grades showed an overall increase in math of five percentage points and in reading of six percentage points. Hunter attributed this to a number of specific programs the district has put in place, in partnership with community organizations, to support American Indian students. This compares to 2-8 grade students overall who made just one percentage point increase in math and two percentage points in reading.
Hunter said that additional analysis by home language showed that the assessments in math and reading proficiency for Asian American students vary. For Asian American students whose home language is English, the proficiency rate is much higher than for students whose home language is Hmong, Pashto, or Dari. Overall, for Asian American students in 2-8 grade, math proficiency declined six percentage points, and reading proficiency declined seven percentage points.
Parents and caregivers typically receive this data about students at fall conferences. If they haven’t received this data, they can request it from their child’s classroom teacher.
Lobbyist Josh Downham shared the district’s priorities for the new DFL majorities at the state legislature, striking an optimistic but tempered tone.
District Lobbyist Josh Downham presented a proposal for the legislative agenda for this year. After the DFL won majorities in the state house and senate, and governor seat, Downham is optimistic but tempered that some of the district’s longtime priorities will be addressed before the legislative session ends May 22, 2023.
“In both cases, those slim majorities are going to impact what is possible because they’re going to need every single vote to get their proposals through,” Downham told the board. “The prospects for public education have gone up significantly in terms of new investments. And, Minneapolis is well-represented in the new leadership of the house and senate.”
Minneapolis legislators now occupy three key leadership roles, Senate majority leader, Senate president and House majority leader.
Downham expects that the significant number of new legislators will mean both the House and Senate will spend the first two months holding hearings to educate new members on a range of issues. Thus, passing new legislation may be a slower process than people would like to see.
Downham anticipates a larger State budget surplus with the budget forecast anticipated for the week of December 5, possibly as large as $12 billion, up from the $9.2 billion announced in February. He estimates that approximately $5 billion of the surplus will be one-time funds, which he notes are less desirable for the district because it sets up a future fiscal cliff.
A longtime district priority has been making up for what would be State-funding for special education and English learners. The district currently uses $53 million and $16 million, respectively, to pay for these legally mandated, but underfunded, services. Downham says it is important to communicate to Governor Walz that getting this State funding, otherwise known as closing the cross subsidies, is a priority for the district.
For district parents and caregivers who would like to be involved in advocating on behalf of the district, Downham runs the Parent Legislative Action Committee. Individuals can sign-up for email alerts, and also participate in meetings with Downham, where he shares information for caregivers about how to advocate for the district at the legislature. Currently, Downham says there are around 300 MPS caregivers receiving his email updates.
In response to the lobbying priorities, School Board member Jenny Arneson said, “This is an opportunity for board members, for school staff, for district staff, for parents to come together, because it will be necessary for us to be very clear that there are things, like fully funding special education, which will have a meaningful impact on our budget, and will benefit all students.”
Budget and school time updates, board recognitions
The board adopted a resolution to amend the budget, which will provide additional funding for security, $3 million of ESSERIII (pandemic relief) funds for academics, and an additional $12 million is capital funds for the North High School Career and Technical Education program.
Senior Officer of Schools Shawn Harris-Berry presented a proposal to standardize high school start times to 8:30 a.m. across the district to provide students with more equitable access to the new centralized Career and Technical Education programs next school year. A consistent start time will enable CTE courses to be offered on a consistent schedule, so all district high school students will be able to access these courses.
The board will meet on November 22 for its monthly Committee of the Whole meeting. The theme for this meeting will be “Program Monitoring of Impact of Instruction” and will include presentations from district principals. The meeting is open to the public, but there is not a public comment period.