Roosevelt parents want equity

Photo by Jeanette Wiedemeier BowerBY JEANETTE WIEDEMEIER BOWER, RHS BOOSTERS

Roosevelt High School is experiencing incredible growth. Our student population is expanding, parents are becoming active in the once defunct Booster Club, and the community is rallying around our school again. There is increased energy among the Teddies; the future is bright. Much of the turn-around can be attributed to Roosevelt’s principal, Michael Bradley, who is described by parents as an action-oriented visionary.
With this much excitement in our halls, members of the school’s Leadership Team, comprised of staff, parents and students, had increased optimism as we planned for next year’s  budget. Ideas for additional classes and funding for new programs were discussed, and hopes were high for increased funding in next year’s budget from the District. Unfortunately, our hopes were dashed.
For 2015-16, the District awarded $11 million to      the city’s high schools. Specifically, South received    a $3 million increase; Washburn received $1.5 million. Roosevelt, half the size of South, received one-tenth of South’s allocation at $324,000.  But the problem went deeper. When parents looked closer at the budget and isolated the discretionary spending for each high school—those dollars that schools could freely spend on new classes or    programs—they saw that Roosevelt’s budget was in the red.
When you remove restricted dollars from the calculations, specifically Title I and special educations dollars, South received $2.2 million in discretionary dollars and Roosevelt was reduced by $232,000. Roosevelt’s hopes of building a theater program and fully funding our Dual Spanish Immersion program became distant; we were now forced to cut a math and English teacher.
Roosevelt is a school with an incredibly diverse population and brags of 38 different languages spoken by our students. However, we also have an 86% rate of poverty and 80% students of color. What’s more, last year Roosevelt was placed on the State Department of Education’s Focus status, which reflects an increasing achievement gap between whites and students of color. For perspective, Washburn and Edison recently stepped off the Focus status in the past few years.
So in a school faced with high levels of poverty and diversity plus an achievement gap, the District reduced Roosevelt’s budget. And three miles away, South has a 54% rate of poverty, a much lower rate of students of color, is not on Focus status, and received 22 new positions in next year’s budget. Patty Kendall, parent of three boys—two at Roosevelt and one who graduated from South last year—describes the disparities between the schools: “It’s definitely the ‘Haves’ versus the ‘Have Nots’ for music and fine arts programming.”
Advocacy Begins
Roosevelt parents immediately began calling school board members posing questions of social justice and educational equity. Unfortunately, members of the school board had not even seen the budget; District administrators had released the budget to the schools before releasing it to the elected officials.
On April 14, over 80 parents, students, staff and alumni attended the school board meeting to air our grievances. It was a sea of maroon and gold in the room. Interim Superintendent Michael Goar opened the meeting by welcoming Roosevelt and publicly apologized for what he termed “an error” by the District in calculating the budget with regard to one element: the seven-period day. Immediately following Roosevelt’s presentation by parents and the student body president, our group was shuffled into a separate room with three top level administrators to share concerns.
Up to this point, parents and alumni were mostly involved in the process.  But students stepped up in the week of April 20 and planned a peaceful walk-out in protest. When the District learned of their plan, they sent the District’s Chief of Schools Michael Thomas to meet with student leaders. However, students weren’t satisfied with their offer of 1.4 FTE (new position). As a result, roughly 175 students walked out of their 7th period classes on Friday, April 24, gathering on the front steps of the school with signs and megaphones. Two news crews carried the story on the evening news. On the eve of the walk-out, the Star Tribune published an article on the front page of the metro section outlining Roosevelt’s budget struggles.
To date, the District has offered 4.8 new positions as a result of our advocacy, but when you adjust for the initial $232,000 we started off in the hole, Roosevelt has 2.2 new positions next year compared to South’s 22 new positions.
Roosevelt supporters will continue our advocacy with the District. Parents and students are requesting an additional two new positions in next year’s budget (6.8 total), which still pales in comparison to South. We will attend the May 12th school board meeting and hope to flood the room with Roosevelt supporters. We will not remain quiet in the midst of such blatant inequities. Our young people deserve so much better!
For more information, you can follow the Roosevelt’s community initiative on Facebook—Roosevelt Rising: Community Support for our Teddies!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *