MPS might fix its budget mess by cutting support services to black males


After three years or so of overspending, the Minneapolis Public Schools have a problem.

It’s a $33 million problem that has district leaders scrambling for good china to sell, jewelry to hock, and useless programs to cut.

Guess what might not survive?

Insiders say the Office of Black Male Student Achievement could quietly shut down.

It’s been three years now and Michael Walker, the OBMSA’s Director, and his staff have failed to wipe out the racial disparities it took the district a century of neglect to create.

With a budget Armageddon pending, programs that don’t work must go. Or, so the internal narrative says.

MPS Superintendent Ed Graff practicing a trite brand of confessional and practiced transparency sent a public letter back in February to announce the problem:

….for the past five years, MPS has routinely spent significantly more money than it has – resulting in mid-year budget shortfalls that jeopardize the stability of our schools and their management. You may recall seeing the audit of last year’s finances which found a $21 million shortfall mid-way through last year. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident. During each of the past five years, auditors uncovered similar mid-year shortfalls totaling anywhere from approximately $326,000 to $38 million.

Don’t worry though, Graff has a plan for resolving the budget problem.

A 10% reduction in costs from central administration, 2.5% skimming from school budgets, and a squandering of the district’s reserves for the rest.

Of course, the incessant whispers about a certain MPS’ Board Chair who got far too cozy with the previous Chief Financial Officer (to the point of acting like a paid employee rather than an elected board member), which resulted in the district being broker than broke, isn’t the worst of it.

The real problem, the one that justified establishing the OBSA, remains the same.

Black kids in MPS are drowning academically and socially.

The MPS is a district of “schools,” and as such you expect them to be teaching, and for students to be learning, and by any measure that isn’t happening – especially for the high-potential students Walker is nurturing to health.

Just look at this nonsense:

Screenshot (31)

One in five black students proficient. Even fewer prepared to be scientific.

It’s hard to imagine the Minneapolis Board of Education has time to discuss anything other than [black] student achievement, but this isn’t really a “black” or “achievement” oriented board.

Ok, so it’s not all bad news.

Looking at overall suspensions the trend is going in the right direction with fewer suspensions, out-of-school removals, expulsions, referral to law enforcement, and administrative transfers.


See the good trends for yourself:


That’s something to celebrate.

We can’t be sure that Walker’s (all-black) team of professionals made that happen, but it’s progress.

Back when Walker’s office started MPS black students had an average 1.9 GPA, a 36% 4-year graduation rate, 5,701 days of missed because of suspensions, and 20,893 referrals for discipline.

Since then the OBSA has engaged the black community – elders, parents, leaders, barbers, you name it- and internal stakeholders. They have trained 1,200 teachers with strategies for reducing bias against black males.

But, happy stats aside, real problems remain.

For instance, 2017-18 looks bad for Washburn High School. Their suspension, removals, and calls for law enforcement point upward:

Washburn (2)

Southwest High School seems to have obliterated suspensions by punting kids into police paddy wagons and waving them adieu.

Screenshot (28)

And, North High, the really tiny school with small class sizes and more funding than any school in the district?

A damn trainwreck.

Here are their suspensions:


And, their academic outcomes?


Screenshot (32)

To that we say….


This looks like a district that needs Walker and his office more than the other way around.

Listen, it’s obvious MPS has a problem with black students, and those problems won’t be solved by starting and stopping programs that improve the culture of schools and provide critical mentoring and support.

In the past, BAE raised holy hell to get a realistic budget for Walker and the OBMSA. We feared the district was treating this work like a vanity project only to give the illusion of equity.

We won’t stand for that now.

Every city with a black male achievement program says the same thing: the work takes time and district leadership has to be in it for real.

Walker and his team are doing their work, building something that is essential, and they deserve to keep their little $1.2 million budget to continue.

This board, this superintendent, and all their careerists need to find a way to fix the budget mess they created without robbing the OBMSA to do it.

We’re watching.


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