Opening Remarks re: MNPS Budget @ Metro Council Meeting 5.21.2020

Greetings Vice Mayor Shulman, Chairman Mendes and Honorable Councilmembers,

On behalf of my board colleagues, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to present our budget. These are, undoubtedly, uncertain times. The pandemic has presented all of us with unforeseen challenges, not least for our students, families and schools.

We come to you today with a budget that received unanimous approval from our board earlier this week and one that reflects our belief that MNPS must share in the sacrifice that is required at this time.  But our central goal is to prioritize our students, and what they will need when they return to us in the fall.

And once students and educators are back our classrooms, we must be prepared to fund their futures. We spent the early part of this year hosting community meetings to share our goals for the budget and to get feedback. Many council members joined us in those meetings. We heard from parents, staff and community members that we must prioritize paying our educators well, and to provide them with the tools and resources necessary to support student success.

Our board has had to make difficult tradeoffs in this budget, choosing to prioritize our students by protecting school budgets so that we may continue to focus on instruction and to support our students’ developmental needs and social-emotional well-being.

MNPS directs 72% of our funding to our schools, giving principals the autonomy and discretion to invest their dollars in staff, programs and materials that best serve their unique student population. Our budget protects that priority, and does not ask principals and schools to make cuts at this time.

Our board recognizes that we can be better stewards of funds, and based on multiple years of study and thorough consideration, the board unanimously voted to close four schools in order increase efficiency and to better leverage staff, programs and supports for students. This was not an easy decision to make, but we understand that these are difficult times.

Some have asked us to look at cutting funds that to go to charter schools. It’s important to note that we recently declined to approve five new charter schools. But we also have a legal obligation to fund existing charters, and know that allocation will gradually increase as more grades are added to existing charter schools.

The budget we bring to you today does not include funds to buy the textbooks and materials for our recent English and Language Arts adoption for grades K-12, which was an important priority for our board and school community this year. We know that this will have a direct impact on student learning. We have made additional cuts into our budget by 10 million in order to address inflationary pressures, including increases in water and insurance costs.

We believe we must not go backward. We are bringing you a budget that includes the 3% cost of living increase we gave to staff this year. That increase included an authorization from Council the use of our fund balance to cover the cost when it became apparent that the original funding mechanism of MDHA funds would not be available. We will honor that increase, but respectfully request that you help us to honor the commitment we all made to the teachers of MNPS by funding the cost-of-living-adjustment that already went into effect.

So, while our board has reached consensus on this budget and its priorities on our students and schools, we recognize that the sacrifices and tradeoffs we are making today will adversely impact our district. Our students will return during a time of great uncertainty, and we have a collective responsibility to ensure that our schools are ready welcome and support them so that they can return to learning.