To invest in the city’s oldest public high school or build new headquarters for the Minneapolis School District?
Seems like a no-brainer, right? If only…
The Minneapolis school board has been faced with these questions this year amidst a shrinking state budget and mounting needs from the city’s North Side. This spring, the school board approved a plan to relocate the district headquarters from Northeast Minneapolis to the North Side. At the time, the facility was estimated at $27.5 million and considered an investment into one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city.
On Tuesday, the project was contracted out at $37 million — almost $10 million more than the plan the school board members had initially approved. On the same night, residents from the North Side protested against shutting down North High School, a school made for 1,700 students with only about 250 enrolled.
This is one of the rare issues where it doesn’t take a personal investment or great amount of interest to see something has gone terribly amiss.
In Wednesday’s Star Tribune, public schools reporter Corey Mitchell wrote,
“Residents accused [Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia] Johnson and the school board of systematically setting up North to fail by not recruiting students, not providing a steady curriculum for them and not pouring resources into North that neighboring high schools have.”
North Side is across the river from where I live and it’s an area I generally avoid. It’s the city’s crime center — have a look at this map of shots fired — and a less than ideal place to move your family or send your kids to school. That has to change. Great cities don’t let entire neighborhoods die.
Should North shut down, what will replace it?
In Waiting for “Superman” — yeah, I know, another tired reference — director Davis Guggenheim illustrates how a struggling school harms the overall health of a neighborhood. Students at North continue to show the lowest math and science proficiency in the city. In 2010, just eight percent of juniors were proficient in math while four percent of the student body was proficient in science.
How do things improve for these students when their school shuts down? Where do they go?
Eventually, the city must destroy and rebuild the North Side. Maybe that starts with closing the doors at North and exploring innovative solutions to educate and mobilize North Side youth. Maybe we need to take some of the tax dollars spent on crime enforcement and invest in neighborhood programs to keep today’s youth from being tomorrow’s felons. Maybe the school district needs to realize you can’t go $10 million over plan on a project many deemed frivolous in the first place.
The North Side has been at a crossroads for years and it’s beyond me how cozier digs for the Minneapolis School District leads to better education for area youth. Call it an investment in the neighborhood, but in truth, it’s just a fancy new office building full of people who will take their paychecks back to the ‘burbs.
Headquarters is slated for a Summer 2012 opening. The sooner, the better. Maybe an everyday drive to the North Side will be a wake-up call for the hundreds of district employees to finally see North is about more than a few hundred students and their failing test scores.
North High School is the story of a community in peril and a community in need of action.