On May 12, 2020, the Minneapolis Public Schools board voted to approve the Comprehensive District Design (CDD). School buildings and businesses were closed statewide due to the rapid spreading of the COVID-19 coronavirus. This was 28 months after MPS had started a comprehensive district assessment, and a year after the board had rejected an initial district redesign presented in April 2019.

Public discussion about the CDD has focused on the changing of neighborhood school boundaries and the types and locations of magnet programs. But additionally, the CDD changed the district’s student placement policy, altered start times at some schools, and designated every student a community elementary school and middle school. The CDD includes a five year capital plan to address the reconfiguration of schools.

In the CDD executive summary, the stated intentions for the CDD were to address issues within MPS related to “academics [and] equity and [financial] sustainability” of the district. The components of the CDD were designed to eliminate “historically inequitable policies and practices that disadvantaged students of color and students from low-income neighborhoods,” the summary reads.  

Implementation of the CDD began in the 2020-2021 school year, but the most visible changes did not take effect until the current school year, 2021-2022, when students, staff and programming were reassigned across district buildings. A full assessment of the impact of the CDD on MPS may not be possible for several years and will be complicated by the impact of the ongoing pandemic, the murder of George Floyd by then-MPD officer Derek Chauvin and the resulting protests, public safety in Minneapolis, rising housing costs, the recent strike by MPS educators, and other issues external to MPS.

This article explains the components of the CDD to provide a baseline understanding of the changes MPS made beyond simply shifting geographic attendance boundaries. It draws on dozens of public documents, as well as presentations and discussions at school board meetings made over the course of two years from June 2018 to May 2020. Over the next few months, the school board will be receiving updates about the CDD from MPS administration, and this article serves as a background for understanding those updates.

It is likely MPS will make additional changes at the school and district level as it confronts ongoing declines in enrollment, a growing budget deficit, and adjusts for the new contract with MFT teachers and support staff.

Community school boundary and grade level changes are the most visible pieces of the CDD to MPS students and families.

The CDD altered the boundaries for nearly all 58 MPS schools. In some locations, the changes were more dramatic. Magnet schools were converted to community schools, or vice versa. High school and middle school pathways were also changed. For example, Barton Elementary School was converted from a K-8 magnet school to a K-5 community elementary school, with boundaries that included locations previously zoned to Lyndale Community School and Richard R. Green Central Park Elementary School. The boundaries for Kenwood Elementary School were expanded and its middle and high school pathways were changed to Anwatin Middle School and North High School. Previously the pathways were to Anthony Middle School and Southwest High School.

In other locations, the boundary changes were more subtle. For example, a small corner of the Fulton neighborhood was switched from Lake Harriet Community School to Armatage Community School for elementary school. The geographic boundaries for Lake Harriet Lake Harriet Community School were otherwise unchanged.

In addition to redrawing boundaries, community elementary schools are now in the K-5 format. Prior to the CDD, some community schools like Hale-Field Elementary School and Lake Harriet Community School, included students in grades K-8. Under the CDD all students have access to a community elementary (grades K-5), middle school (grades 6-8), and high school (grades 9-12), based on their address. For families that would prefer a K-8 school, there are two K-8 magnet schools which they can apply to through placement lotteries.

For some schools, the redrawing of boundaries and changes to grade level formats led to dramatic changes in the number of students enrolled. Because a large portion of individual school funding is tied to enrollment, declines in enrollment in these schools meant a loss of funding and staff. In a handful of schools, enrollment, and thus funding, increased.

Unlike the last time MPS changed boundaries and magnets in 2010 under the Changing Schools Options (CSO) plan, the CDD did not grandfather students into their existing school or pathway if they were in kindergarten through eighth grade. The only exception was for elementary school students at some of the community schools that became magnet schools, like Elizabeth Hall School and Bethune Community School. Students who were already attending those schools as their community school could choose to stay at the school as it became a magnet.

High school students who were already enrolled in the 2020-2021 school year were allowed to continue in their current high school. In addition, unlike under CSO, younger siblings weren’t grandfathered into the schools their older siblings were already attending. For some families, this meant having freshmen in the 2021-2022 school year attending a different high school than their older siblings. If families wanted their students to attend high school together, families were given the option to switch older siblings to the same high school where entering freshmen were assigned by address. While many families expressed a desire for “grandfathering” for both elementary and high school students, the district argued that the changes were so extensive that it wouldn’t have been possible to accommodate, and would have prolonged the adjustment to the new boundaries.

Magnet schools were overhauled to change the types, locations and placement process.

Prior to the CDD, MPS operated a zoned system of magnet schools. The district was divided into three zones, with a set of magnet schools in each zone. Using a placement lottery, families could elect to attend a magnet school within the zone of their home address, and MPS would provide transportation to the magnet school. The magnet school themes were international baccalaureate, Spanish immersion, Montessori, arts, environmental, and an open theme. The types of magnets in each zone were not the same, so some students had access to programming that wasn’t available to others.

The magnet schools were funded in part with state achievement and integration aid. This state funding is provided to support districts in three goals: racial and economic integration of schools, reducing disparities in academic outcomes, and increasing access to effective and diverse teachers. Many of the magnet programs were beloved to families, students and staff.

But because of the student placement policies, and other decisions by district and school staff, the district believed that magnets were exacerbating segregation within MPS.

According to district data, the magnet schools were not achieving the goals required by state aid. According to district data, 4 of the 12 magnet programs pre-CDD had lost students of color from 2013 to 2017. Only Barton Elementary School, Dowling Elementary School and Seward Montessori School had increased the percentage of students of color by over 10% (15%, 12%, and 10% respectively). Windom Community School had lost over 10% of its students of color.

Even with these small gains in students of color at the MPS magnet schools, the most racially and economically-segregated schools in MPS, like Bethune Community School, Lucy Laney Community School, and Nellie Stone Johnson School, have stayed that way over time. These three non-magnet schools all had over 95% students of color and over 90% of students qualifying for free and reduced price lunch from 2015-2018. The district averaged around 65% students of color and 60% qualifying for free and reduced price lunch during that time.

Under the CDD, the magnet schools were overhauled into a single system of citywide schools, resulting in many programs being moved or eliminated. All MPS students can now choose any magnet program, with district-provided transportation, through the placement lottery. The programs available now are STEM, arts, Spanish immersion, global humanities and Montessori. The urban environment, international baccalaureate, and open concept themes are no longer offered. Emerson and Sheridan Spanish Immersion schools stayed the same, while Seward Montessori was changed to a K-5 from a K-8. and Marcy Arts Magnet Elementary School changed to a K-5 arts magnet from a K-8 open magnet. New magnet schools were placed at Bethune Community School, Elizabeth Hall School, Franklin Middle School, Richard R. Green Central Park Elementary School, Sullivan STEAM School, and Jefferson Community School. The magnet programs moved to more central locations, which corresponds to places in Minneapolis that have historically experienced underinvestment and disinvestment.

Along with the new community school boundaries and magnet programs, the district made changes to the student placement policy which determines how students are matched with schools.

In November 2019, MPS completed an equity and diversity impact analysis (EDIA) of the district’s school placement policies. Board policy 1304 directs the superintendent and board to conduct an analysis on policies that may have a significant impact on student learning and resource allocations within MPS. The EDIA process is particularly focused on “identifying and correcting practices and policies that perpetuate the achievement gap and institutional racism in all forms.”

The EDIA found that the student placement process was not leading to integration of MPS schools over time. In addition, it found that some families, for a variety of factors, had access to more options than others. White families, especially those that did not qualify for free and reduced price meals, were disproportionately utilizing the placement lottery. District data presented to the school board in November 2019 showed that in Zone 1 schools, in North and Northeast Minneapolis, 40% of kindergarten students were placed after the lottery process, which was twice the rate as Zone 3, in Southwest Minneapolis. And across a range of factors, such as whether or not the placement process materials were available in their preferred language, white families reported the fewest challenges utilizing the placement process. The district also reported that some families were using out of area community school and magnet placement to attend schools that were less racially and economically diverse than their community schools. This was exacerbating segregation within neighborhood schools in some locations.

Under the revised student placement policy, MPS now has two rounds of placement lottery, with the second round only for placement in magnet schools. Families can rank up to three choices, including the community school assigned based on their address, or the citywide magnet schools. The district will provide transportation to both types of schools for any student outside of the school walk zone. Under very limited circumstances, MPS will place some students at a community school that is different from the one assigned based on their home address.

The first lottery deadline is in early February. The second lottery, in early April, was added to give families a longer amount of time to make a school choice. Some of the factors for placement into magnet schools include priority for students whose community schools are over-enrolled, siblings who will be enrolled at the same time, and, for magnets, placement decisions are made to balance the ratio of students who qualify for free and reduced price meals to reflect the demographics of the district as a whole.

MPS changed start times to be more uniform across the district.

To enable participation in after-school activities, MPS changed the start times for schools so that middle school and high school students would all start at 8:40 a.m., and prioritized elementary schools with a high proportion of students qualifying for Education Benefits for the earliest start times.

Prior to the CDD, MPS had 29 unique start times for its schools. That complex set of schedules resulted from an accumulated design process, where changes were made over the years without coordination. The complexity increased the cost of bus service, and led to decreased reliability of bus service. To address the complexities, bell times were changed as part of the CDD to prioritize access to after-school programming for high school and middle school students, as well as elementary students who were in either racially identifiable or high poverty schools. In preparing to change bell times, the district engaged staff internally, as well as conducted a parent survey, in July 2020. White families residing in south and southwest Minneapolis made up 82% of the responses to the survey, which was not representative of the district as a whole. Survey responses showed a strong preference for elementary start times that correspond to the start of the work day. Bell time changes were made for the 2021-2022 school year, and were shared with families before the placement lotteries.

The Comprehensive District Design promised transformational changes to MPS for less than 2% of the annual operating budget.

When the school board considered the CDD in May 2020, transportation savings was one of the promised results. The savings would come from bussing students shorter distances and fewer locations. MPS argued that the savings could be re-invested in school buildings, staff and programming for students. The district estimated that there would be $6.9 million in transportation savings, which is nearly identical to the $7 million in transportation savings promised under the CSO.

In addition to the transportation savings, according to the May 12, 2020 CDD cost presentation,  the district estimated that the CDD would require $4.6 million annually from general fund revenue, starting in 2021-2022, to support its goals. Altogether, the CDD was estimated to cost MPS $11.5 million annually. This cost is paid for with the $6.9 million in transporation savings and the $4.6 million from the general fund.

With a total annual general fund budget around $600 million, the ongoing costs of the CDD are less than 2% of annual operating costs. The academic components of the CDD were estimated to cost $8.4 million, with about 42% of those costs being directed to the district's magnet programs, and the rest for its community schools.  

Along with annual and one-time operating costs, MPS passed a $141 million capital plan to support the new citywide magnet programs.

The school board passed a five year capital plan in June 2020 with over $141 million in capital projects specifically to support the new magnet schools and other changes to schools made by the CDD. The plan was revised in April 2021 to start some of the CDD capital projects earlier. The schools with the most significant capital investments under this plan include Andersen Community & Dual Language Middle School, Bethune Community School, Franklin Middle School, Elizabeth Hall School, Jefferson Community School, North High School and Sullivan STEAM School.

New magnet capitol projects

The impact of the CDD may not be known for several more years.

Determining the impact of the CDD on MPS, and whether it meets the goals of academic improvement, equitable access to programming and financial sustainability set out by the school board, may not be known for several years. Discerning the impact will be complicated by other events happening in and around MPS at the same time, including the pandemic, rising housing prices, concerns about public safety, and the recent strike by MPS teachers and support staff. The district has faced significant enrollment declines, both in the year before CDD was implemented, and in the first year of its implementation. Enrollment, and thus funding, is expected to decline further next year according to information presented to the board by Senior Financial Officer Ibrahima Diop in February 2022. By September 2024, the federal COVID funds must all be spent, leaving MPS with an uncertain financial future if state funding isn’t changed and enrollment doesn’t increase.