Minneapolis School Board Superintendent Carol Johnson announced her budget-cutting plan Tuesday night with dishearteningly little public reaction. Johnson’s plan proposes $30.4 million in cuts from next year’s budget by freezing wages, cutting administration, closing schools and, most gravely, eliminating teachers.
The board’s proposed cut of 203 teaching positions highlights the critical state the budget has reached. In order for students to receive even a rudimentary education, quality teachers are indispensable and should be vehemently protected by the school board and public. As head of the Minneapolis teachers union Louise Sundan points out in the Star Tribune, teachers “will not come to a place where they are discounted, discredited or marked down.” The impending cuts coupled with wage freezes would undoubtedly do just that.
Johnson does not support increasing class size, which she claims her cuts would not do. She feels this would diminish voter confidence, making them less likely to approve budget increases because of a 1990 referendum in which voters approved reducing class sizes. Johnson and voters need to have the foresight to see the more serious implications reducing teachers will have. Even if class sizes remain the same, they would be taught by overworked instructors who are receiving minimal pay.
Instead of recognizing the huge disservice teacher cuts does to education, the district’s chief operating officer David Jennings reacted to the plan by advising that the board cut at least $5 million more, a move relatively ignored by voters. Public apathy to such moves is no surprise to other Minnesota districts; Osseo recently approved its own plan to cut 73 teachers, close one school and increase class sizes. A pathetic 60 people from the 22,000 who populate the district showed up at the meeting where the changes were validated. One board member said she was happy it was over and relieved there was no public scrutiny.
The Minneapolis School District must stop the trend of actively decreasing education quality in Minnesota. Board members need to bring to public attention the precarious state in which their approval of such a plan places education. Granted, they face extreme budget shortfalls, and money must come from somewhere, but cutting teachers should be the absolute last resort. Every expense and program should be analyzed and all options explored, including appealing to taxpayers for more money. This desperate move to deprive students of a decent education must be denied.