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By next school year, Minneapolis fifth-graders likely won't have instrumental music. Eight preschool classrooms will be closed. And several schools may have to say goodbye to their assistant principals.

The district's finance leaders said those cuts come in an effort to close a projected budget gap that has ballooned from $90 to $115 million — the largest in the district's history. The increase was calculated based on salary offers made in contract bargaining, which is ongoing. The Minneapolis teachers union began mediation sessions with the district last Thursday.

"We understand the main takeaway from this presentation and from this budget proposal will be the reductions and their impacts," said Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams at a School Board Finance Committee meeting Tuesday.

"School district budgets are more complicated than they should be," she said, explaining that state and federal education funding comes with requirements and formulas, and inflation is driving all district costs up. "It's not as easy as taking the money we receive and deciding how to spend it."

Greta Callahan, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Professionals' teachers chapter, said Minneapolis Public Schools should prioritize its spending differently — the main takeaway in a recent union report about district finances.

"Why are they choosing right now to punish our students for mistakes they have made?" said Callahan, who is running for a seat on the School Board against Minneapolis parent and Montessori educator Lara Bergman.

The Minneapolis district has reckoned with budget struggles for years as its enrollment shrinks. But other districts are also struggling this year as millions in pandemic-era financial assistance dries up.

In St. Paul, the projected deficit for the coming year is $107 million — an amount district officials said would not be affected by the tentative agreement with its teachers union announced Tuesday.

Despite the significant state education funding increase approved in the 2023 legislative session, a survey shows that more than 70% of the districts in the Association of Metropolitan School Districts face a combined budget shortfall of more than $300 million for the 2024-25 school year. The association is calling for policymakers to approve supplemental funding for districts this year.

Tuesday's meeting in Minneapolis included a presentation about nearly $46 million in reductions to school budgets compared to last year.

Almost two-thirds of the proposed cuts will come from scaling back a program that provides intervention teams in each school to help students struggling academically. Those positions were funded with one-time pandemic relief funds that expire in September.

District finance leaders will present details on the proposed department budget cuts on March 19. The budget, which is nearly $980 million overall, must be approved by the end of June.

In addition to the reductions, the district plans to use $55 million from its reserve funds — an area the union has pointed to as a way to fund teacher raises.

"We need to note that the use of these funds will completely or nearly completely exhaust the fund balances from which they come, so this is a one-year bridge," said Thom Roethke, the district's budget director, emphasizing that the district is "stretched too thin."

Minneapolis school buildings have the capacity to serve about 45,000 students, but enrollment hovers around 28,500. The school board launched a "district transformation process" that could include closing or consolidating schools.

Still, many of the cost reductions made in Minneapolis will be offset by rising costs of wages and operations, Roethke said.

"It's kind of two steps forward, one step back," he said.