Patrick Henry High School faces $1.9 million in budget cuts

 Chong Vang, a Patrick Henry High School (PHHS) graduate, co-facilitated a March 17 meeting among community members to discuss the potential impact of $1.9 million in budget cuts at his alma mater. The meeting was held at the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers building (67 8th Ave. NE). About 25 students, parents, and alumni came out to support teachers and express their frustration over the proposed budget cuts.  Photo by Cirien Saadeh

Chong Vang, a Patrick Henry High School (PHHS) graduate, co-facilitated a March 17 meeting among community members to discuss the potential impact of $1.9 million in budget cuts at his alma mater. The meeting was held at the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers building (67 8th Ave. NE). About 25 students, parents, and alumni came out to support teachers and express their frustration over the proposed budget cuts. Photo by Cirien Saadeh

By Cirien Saadeh | Staff Reporter

Community members fear that Patrick Henry High School (PHHS) won’t look the same next year.

The school is slated to undergo $1.9 million in budget cuts  a drastic number which would potentially “excess off” (eliminate)* 16 teachers and a number of support staff, with cuts impacting numerous departments including the Japanese, English, social studies, and math programs, according to teachers from the school

Rumors regarding the budget cuts began swirling around North Minneapolis in mid-March. Despite numerous attempts to reach district staff and Principal Abdullah at PHHS, North News was not able to get details about the situation from either.

MPS’ Media Relations Coordinator Dirk Tedmon gave a general statement to North News on March 13: “Patrick Henry, like many schools in Minneapolis and the central office, has a reduced budget for next year. As more than 85% of our district budget is people, we expect to see impacts on staffing districtwide. Staffing decisions will not be finalized until budgets are completed later this month,” he said.

Budget cuts are occurring across the district, but PHHS is one of the schools anticipated to be hit hardest. These cuts are one outcome of the district’s efforts to course correct after a $33 million deficit this year.

 As of Sunday, March 18, over 1000 people had signed a  change.org  petition to "Keep Our Teachers" created by PHHS students. 

As of Sunday, March 18, over 1000 people had signed a change.org petition to "Keep Our Teachers" created by PHHS students. 

“I was told that there are too many variables to know if layoffs are going to happen,” said a teacher and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) representative who attempted to reach out to MPS’ Human Resources department for additional clarification.

There is very little information available from the district regarding the cuts impacting PHHS and much of what is known is being shared by word-of-mouth. Students have begun circulating a change.org petition to “Keep Our Teachers” and social media is rife with discussion as people attempt to figure out what is fact and how they can act.

In recent years, students have been advocating for air conditioning at PHHS, but in the past week, some have expressed a desire to see that money spent to keep their teachers instead. The student demand cannot be met, however, because facilities maintenance is funded differently than the general fund, which primarily funds teachers and staffing.

PHHS community members, including alumni, students, and parents, met on March 17 to organize what they know and don’t know and begin putting together a response to the cuts they anticipate.

“I’m absolutely devastated, as we learn about the cuts and about how deep the cuts go. This was my 22nd year at Patrick Henry. My whole career has been here,” said one PHHS teacher to the tearful and frustrated crowd that day. Many individuals spoke on the tight-knit nature of the community, calling it a “family with both a ph and an f,” despite concerns that rallying around the school’s name might distract from “Change the Name” campaign efforts.

MPS Board Director for District 2, Kerry Jo Felder, who attended the meeting and works for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, said that PHHS, Washburn High School, and South High School will be  hit hardest by anticipated budget cuts. According to Felder, these three schools will shoulder approximately 7% of the $33 million deficit.

MPS School Board candidate Kimberly Caprini attended the March 17 meeting. One of Caprini’s daughters graduated from PHHS; another will attend PHHS next year. “What they’re doing to Henry is what they did to North [High School]; they are turning off the faucet,” said Caprini.

According to Felder, budget cuts made at North High School in the years before and after the 2011 tornado left the school resource-less and led to it nearly being shut down.

PHHS community members will reconvene on March 21 to finalize key talking points and demands, as well as an organizing plan. They expect that there will be actions held at the both the March 27 MPS Committee of the Whole meeting (which does not include a public comment period) and the April 10 MPS Business Meeting (which does include a public comment period).

PHHS is one of the district’s most diverse high schools. Community members fear that the cuts at the school would destroy the learning community that has been built in the years since the last round of major budget cuts hit the high school in 2004.

“During the first round of budget cuts, we lost things  programs and staff  core to our community identity,” said one teacher at the March 27 meeting.

MPS recently announced that they would be going back to Minneapolis taxpayers this November to seek additional support through a tax referendum. According to district officials, MPS fears that if their budget situation is not taken care of hastily, they might face a takeover by the State of Minnesota. MPS also recently announced that they had come to a contract renegotiation deal with the MFT, but one MFT representative at the March 17 meeting was quick to point out that the contract renegotiation and the cuts at PHHS were very separate issues.

MPS is also one of several Minnesota school districts sued in an “integration” lawsuit that went before the Minnesota Supreme Court in Jan. 2018. Plaintiffs in the case argue that MPS and other districts are “shirking” their duty to appropriately educate low-income and minority students.  

This is a developing story with numerous moving variables. North News will continue to update you as we learn more.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Felder worked for the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. Felder works for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, an affiliate of MFT. 

*Excessing is a process in which academic staff are given the opportunity to move to other schools within the district when budget cuts force them out of an existing community. Several of the teachers leaving PHHS have taught at the school for upwards of 20 years or more. Layoffs have not been officially announced, but community members are expecting them, especially since the “interview and select” process that these excessed community members would have to go through would likely occur after probationary teachers (and teachers with less seniority) are placed.

Kenzie O'Keefe