Alt: Underfunding, other forces hamper diversity efforts

Abigail Alt

District 191 approves 2020-21 budget  

Forces beyond School District 191’s control impede its efforts to retain teachers and other staff members of color, School Board Chair Abigail Alt said June 18.

Alt’s statement accompanied board approval of the district’s 2020-21 budget, which reflects layoffs of 52 probationary teachers and 12 tenured teachers.

The probationary teachers include Qorsho Hassan, one of 10 finalists for the 2020 Minnesota Teacher of the Year Award sponsored by Education Minnesota. The former fifth-grade teacher at Gideon Pond Elementary is one of the few Somali teachers in the state and has been praised as an advocate for education equity and students and staff of color.

This past school year was Hassan’s third and final as a probationary teacher in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district.

Alt didn’t mention Hassan but said state law, labor rules and underfunding are barriers to retaining staff at a time when the staff and community are challenging the district to diversify its workforce.

“Districts like 191 have successfully established practices to attract, hire, mentor and support talented, caring employees who reflect the students we serve,” Alt said. “State statute, PELRA and tenure mandates create barriers in retaining staff. State and federal governments maintain unfunded mandates and provide inadequate funding for education.”

Absent legislation to remove such barriers, 191 “must resharpen our focus, become a destination district for families and grow enrollment,” Alt said. “In the absence of a positive shift in each of these three areas, 191 will continue to lose the best and brightest, and the most diverse workforce to date.”

Fifty-five percent of district students are minority, a 10 percent increase in the last five years, according to the district.

In 2019-20, 4.75 percent of district teachers were people of color, the district said. The layoffs claimed 4.6 full-time equivalent positions held by teachers of color, reducing the overall number to 4.34 percent.

Statewide, 4 percent of teachers are people of color, according to the Minnesota House of Representatives Session Daily. In the past decade, the population of students of color has grown from 24 percent to 34 percent.

The teacher cuts in District 191 were part of an $8.5 million budget-balancing plan that included closing three schools, reducing staff to reflect enrollment decline and raising class sizes by one student at all grade levels. The plan includes $1.6 million in new annual revenue from a levy referendum last November.

The 2020-21 general fund budget totals $127.83 million, with a $990,645 deficit that will be covered by fund reserves. The budget is about $4 million less than general fund spending in 2019-20, which totaled $131.84 million.

The 2020-21 budget reflects continued enrollment decline, with an estimated loss of 440 students next year, the biggest drop in the last five. Enrollment is projected at 7,887.

“Despite the setbacks in the FY 21 budget, we will continue to follow the tenets of our strategic plan,” Alt said. “We will focus ourselves on becoming the district of choice again for our families to best serve the needs of our students and our community.”

The 2020-21 budget across all funds is $175.49 million.

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