The headline of this column reflects the soon-to-be-finished headquarters of Special School District #1 of the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and the mystery surrounding its funding. This raises further questions about who will operate the building, who will control other activities in the building, and what other groups are expecting to benefit, perhaps even be housed in the building at public expense.
It also raises the question of MPS funding in general due to the discovery of a “deferred” $32 million fund, heretofore unknown to the public, for use in funding the $27 million needed to redesign and expand three elementary schools in South Minneapolis.
These issues — the new district headquarters at 1200 West Broadway and why the district will not own that building for the next 20 years, and the redesign and expansion of three South Minneapolis elementary schools — were rekindled at the school board meeting last Tuesday, September 27. The school issue was raised in two recent Corey Mitchell stories in the Star Tribune (September 24 in the daily paper and in his online blog of September 27).
At Tuesday’s meeting, the board reported it was hiring a consultant — name and amount of contract not stated — to begin redesign of those schools to be expanded.
This brings to mind the candidates’ forum at UROC in North Minneapolis on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 where I served as one of the moderators. The candidates were asked about the ownership of the district’s new headquarters. Board member T. Williams was the only candidate to answer: He said that there was a shortfall, and that certain financial arrangements were being made to make up for it with the Ackerberg Group, a commercial real estate firm, who would finance it and hold title for the next 20 years.
That was quite a surprise for many in the audience that night. That information from Board Member T. Williams has never been challenged or disputed. I wrote about this in my column of October 20, 2010.
Several questions present themselves: Is the $32 million actually in place, or is it part of anticipated revenue that the district expects to acquire through a nine percent tax levy increase at the end of the year? Is the money “deferred” from this intended tax or carried over from some other source, and if so, what source?
As the public will not be made aware until December that this increase will be coming, how does it fit into the assurance of the mayor and the Minneapolis City Council to property owners that there will be no increase in property taxes?
Also at the Tuesday, October 27 meeting, the board was to have received a report laying out the financial/budgetary plan, a report some say is already four months overdue. The board clearly has the authority, under law, to set its own property tax levy.
But for some reason Rick Mills, the deputy superintendent and chief executive officer of the MPS who started July 1, 2011, has not been able to get the proposal in place. Consequently, questions remain regarding whether both the $32 million is in place and whether the surplus some say currently resides in bank accounts of Minneapolis Special School District No. 1 totals $98 million.
MPS has earned much suspicion from taxpayers and parents because of past practices. A recent internal evaluation led to the creation of the deputy superintendent/CEO position overseeing the associate superintendents. Clearly this was done to help the superintendent develop her skills and improve her performance in areas cited as weak.
These are not our evaluations, but evaluations from internal and external reports consultants have presented. Observers indicated that the board was caught off guard more than once at the school board meeting of September 27 in discussions of fiscal stability and financial planning and analysis.
In fact, one of the questions asked internally by the board is how is the redesign of North High School is going. My question is this: Will there be enough money budgeted to make the recommended redesign of North High School a reality?
These are tough questions in tough economic times for a legislature controlled by tough-minded Republicans who are in the driver’s seat for another calendar year. Taxpayers should not be blindsided by property tax increases in December without proper hearings and announcements. This is the kind of bad government and poor planning that Hubert Humphrey would not want.
Ron Edwards hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm; hosts “Black Focus” on Blog Talk radio Sundays at 3 pm; and co-hosts Blog Talk Radio’s “ON POINT!” Saturdays at 4 pm, providing coverage about Black Minnesota. Order his books at www.BeaconOnTheHill.com. Hear his readings and read his solution papers for community planning and development and “web log” at www.TheMinneapolisStory.com.