Shakopee school board (copy)

Shakopee School Board members discuss the district’s potential levy options last year.

The Shakopee School Board cut 48 probationary teachers and proposed to cut nine tenured teachers at its Tuesday meeting this week due to necessary budget cuts after voters turned down the district’s proposed $9 million operating levy in November 2020. 

The cuts will take effect June 11, 2021. The breakdown of the cuts is as follows. Note: Nine of the cut teachers work at two separate schools. They are counted under both schools in this list. 

  • Shakopee High School: 19 teachers
  • Sun Path Elementary School: 11 teachers
  • West Middle School: 8 teachers
  • East Middle School: 8 teachers
  • Red Oak Elementary School: 6 teachers
  • Eagle Creek Elementary School: 6 teachers
  • Jackson Elementary School: 4 teachers
  • Sweeney Elementary School: 3 teachers
  • Tokata Learning Center: 1 teacher 

The tenured teachers will have the right to a hearing before their positions are officially cut, Director of Human Resources Keith Gray said at the April 12 meeting. 

The cuts make up a large portion of the $7 million in cuts overall that have been, and continue to be made, across the district.

"Our principals and administrative team, for the most part, haven't had to do this, so this is kind of a first," Gray said. "It was really... tough, staffing this year." 

But even with the implementation of those budget cuts, the district’s financial outlook appears grim. The district is projected to face a $400,000 deficit for the 2022-23 school year, which is projected to snowball into a $7.8 million deficit for the 2024-25 school year.

Students will notice significantly larger class sizes next year because of the cuts, which Shakopee School Board Chair Kristi Peterson called last month “unacceptable.”

The staffing targets from the 2021-22 school year project the average high school class size will increase from 31 to 36 students. For middle school, class sizes are projected to increase from 31 to 34.1 students. And elementary class sizes will grow, on average, between two and three students.

But the only way for the district to bring the class sizes back down for the 2022-2023 school year is to generate more revenue through an operating levy.

Building back

District administration discussed what it would look like to bring back some of the cut positions and offerings at a school board work session Tuesday. 

“The only realistic option for additional revenue is an operating levy,” Shakopee Superintendent Mike Redmond said.

The first, and most heavily discussed, levy option the school board explored was referred to by administration as a $7.4 million “build back levy,” meaning it would bring back many of the cut positions that directly impact students.

This option would bring back the following positions and programs that have been cut this year:

  • 34.7 full-time equivalent teachers
  • Fifth-grade band
  • English Learner teachers
  • High potential teachers
  • Paraprofessional/behavioral support staff
  • Custodial positions
  • 2 high school counselors
  • 2 middle school intervention paraprofessionals
  • A greeter at West Middle School to provide security services
  • Elementary school intervention teachers
  • ACT student fee payments
  • College in the Schools/concurrent enrollment courses

The "build back" levy option, at $851 per pupil, means taxpayers who live in a home valued at $317,000 would owe an additional $400 in district taxes for 2022. But due to a debt levy falling off the books this year, the net tax impact for that home price would be $83.

This option, Redmond noted, would not recoup any of the district’s administrative cuts or increase the district’s fund balance in any way. (A healthy fund balance, according to the school district’s own policy, is considered to be at least 8% of the district’s annual budget. The district’s fund balance is projected to be at the 1% mark by the end of next year).

Additional levy revenue above the “build back option” could bring additional improvements to class size targets, improve teacher compensation, add fine arts programming and restore the district’s unassigned fund balance.

If the board decided to aim to bring the district up to the metro-average levy amount of $1,261 per pupil, which is an $11 million levy, the average-priced home would see a net tax increase of $279 for taxes payable in 2022.

Structural imbalance

District Finance Director Bill Menozzi said earlier this year the district’s current budget issues boil down to three shortfalls: state aid funding that doesn’t keep up with inflation, declining enrollment and the absence of an operating levy referendum.

State aid funding is projected to increase by a nominal .5% for the 2021-22 school year, according to the district’s estimates, which is an increase of $33 per pupil.

Because the district relies so heavily on state aid funding, which is based on the number of students enrolled in the district, declining enrollment plays a major factor in the district’s grim outyear projections. This year’s kindergarten class, for example, was projected to reach 529 students, but the actual number of kindergarten students as of Feb. 1 was 475 students, which the district said could be due to parents who chose to “redshirt” their little ones for a year until the pandemic subsides.

But falling short of enrollment projections means the district takes a budget hit.

“Each student generates about $10,000 in funding per year,” Assistant Superintendent Dave Orlowsky said. “So if we’re down 50 students, that’s about $500,000. If you roll that forward each year, that’s $500,000 less than you were expecting. So it compounds over time.”

The district is projecting an enrollment of 8,909 students for the 2021-22 school year. It projects 364 fewer students by the 2024-25 school year.

“(Enrollment decline) really hits from a revenue standpoint more than I think the community realizes,” Peterson said at a previous board meeting. 

Those factors, combined with the lack of an operating levy, mean the Shakopee school district is operating at $1,800 less per pupil than the seven-county metro average, according to most recent estimates by accounting firm BerganKDV.

What Menozzi called a “structural imbalance” in the district’s budget will cause the district’s unassigned fund balance to drop from $1.2 million next school year to $12.3 million in the hole by the 2024-25 school year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed how many of the cut positions serve more than one school. Nine teachers losing their positions serve at more than one school. 

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.

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