Minneapolis school district embezzles pandemic relief funds

Minneapolis public schools face a series of crises. Some have been forced on us, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Others were created by years of district underfunding and missteps.

Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and constitute the majority of families in our district. That’s why the Minneapolis Teachers Federation was at the negotiating table months ago with solutions to keep our students and educators safe. Today, thanks to the investments of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), we have the opportunity to face some of these crises head-on.

MPS is expected to receive $ 159 million in federal funds intended to address the myriad problems caused by the pandemic. As educators, our first goal is to keep our students healthy for a safe and successful school year. Unfortunately, the management of Minneapolis public schools wants to divert resources from the health and safety of students and educators to cover the other loopholes in the system that they have created.

These cracks were largely caused by the district’s comprehensive design plan, which produced massive instability for families, a significant drop in enrollment, and a direct negative impact on student learning.

We cannot compromise the health and learning of our children to bail out the district’s past mistakes.

Superintendent Ed Graff was tasked with appointing a committee to make recommendations on how to spend federal funds. He used this authority to appoint representatives of outside private groups, which have often been hostile towards our schools and educators. He even named someone who openly called for a boycott of Minneapolis public schools. Unsurprisingly, this directly led to distorted priorities for investments in our district.

As thousands of our students struggle to get to and from school, the plan recommends that only 1.53% of those funds be used to solve the bus transportation problem. The plan recommends devoting significant sums to external and private human resources consultants. Meanwhile, educators came up with a simple recruiting strategy for the school’s professionals: pay everyone a living wage.

The Graff Plan creates an alternative teacher licensing program, even though 51% of licensed teachers in Minnesota do not currently teach.

This is reckless mismanagement of the federal investment that represents our last and best hope for a semblance of a normal, healthy and productive school year. We don’t need to look any further than our counterparts across the river in St. Paul to see what we could do with this investment. In St. Paul, educators are making real and significant investments in solving their bus problems, while ours are much worse. Perhaps more importantly, St. Paul’s Schools have done a much better job of listening to educators and other field staff about the needs of their students. They are sending tens of millions more to schools to solve the unique problems caused by the pandemic and the funding delay.

Our teachers and educational support professionals are close to the students. We went through a pandemic last year and we know what works and what doesn’t. We know that students need online options at the school level, including educators focused on distance learning for students who cannot attend classes in person. This need became urgent when widespread exposure to COVID-19 forced Edison High School to take distance education. Other schools could follow.

Instead of paying consultants, MPS could reduce class sizes and decrease the risk of the virus that causes COVID-19 spreading. It is not safe to cram 40 or more students into a classroom without the possibility of social distancing. Filling the 150 vacant education support professional positions will prevent the burnout that demands too many good educators.

As parents, we understand the strain families are feeling right now. Post-exposure quarantines are a reality this fall, but the lack of adequate online academic support for students is a political choice. The daily anxiety caused by the shortage of bus drivers is shared by parents almost everywhere, but in Minneapolis, school administrators are not prioritizing the problem.

As educators, we asked for more mental health supports like school counselors and other licensed professionals, smaller class sizes, N95 masks for everyone and more.

We are $ 5 billion underfunded in public education in the state of Minnesota. ARP is a chance to fund the supports our Minneapolis students have lost over the years, but need and deserve. Unfortunately, the district leadership seems to be prepared to throw in everything to cover up the crises it has created in our schools.

Greta Callahan is President of the Teachers Chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals.

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