Survival of the Biggest

Minneapolis public school officials make some hard budget-trimming choices

Still to be determined is the fate of the popular performing-arts program at Brookside Elementary. During the public hearings held by the board, Brookside received by far the most passionate community support. In response, Johnson and the school board decided to close the school--which is currently operating out of a leased building in St. Louis Park--but keep the performing-arts program alive by relocating it into two other schools, Cityview Community School in the north and Kenwood in the south.

The compromise did not mollify many parents, students, and school staff. "This is a Minneapolis school that is attracting people from as far away as Woodbury, one that parents and staff want to keep together," Nathan says. "I think it is sad that they are ripping it apart." According to school-board member Audrey Johnson, whose children also once attended the school, the administration and the board are considering other options. In any case, a decision must be made soon--the deadline for students to hand in their choice of schools to attend is January 15.

As important as the fate of Brookside may be to parents and staff, it's just a minor piece of a sobering financial puzzle that must be put together by the MPS administration and school board in the coming weeks. Having received voter approval just last year for additional monies to reduce class size in the schools, Minneapolis was one of the few districts not to put a tax increase for education on the ballot this year. With little or no additional money expected to come from the state or the feds in the near future, the district has to get more creative and more efficient with its resources. Still, all of the closings and relocations will save the district slightly less than $1 million next year, leaving another $8 million to be trimmed to stay within the budget. Some of that can be made up by the lower fuel prices for heating and transportation this winter.

To crunch the rest of the fiscal gap, MPS has been working with the well-respected consulting firm of McKinsey & Co., Inc., whose accountants and management personnel are going over the district's budget--free of charge--to identify other ways to trim its costs. The company's report will in turn be reviewed by a group of former and current Twin Cities CEOs, who will make their own recommendations. Progress reports and recommendations on the budgetary process will be given at the school-board meetings on November 30 and December 11. Whatever is eventually decided in the next few months will have a pronounced impact on all Minneapolis schools--big and small.


Editor's note: The author's son attended Brookside from 1993 to 1999, and the writer was among those who spoke in favor of retaining the school.

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