At its July 11 board retreat, Shakopee School District administration narrowed down its budget mitigation options to either a $9 million levy paid over the course of the next four years, or $11.15 million in budget cuts made over the next five years, which would lead to 48 teaching positions cut.
Shakopee Superintendent Mike Redmond said proposing a $9 million phased-in levy to Shakopee voters come November is, in his opinion, the best way to protect the current level of education.
The conversation came after months of discussion surrounding the district’s $2.5 million budget deficit for the 2021-2022 school year that, if left alone, would snowball until the district’s fund balance is $26 million in the hole by 2024. Redmond has said that can’t happen.
District Finance Director Bill Menozzi said because $4.9 million of the district’s debt relief is falling off in 2021, most taxpayers wouldn’t notice a huge monthly increase in district taxes next year if an operating levy passed.
If the proposed levy passes, a $280,000 home would see a net monthly change of $4.13 per month, or about $200, over the next four years. A $350,000 home would see a net increase of $237 over the next four years, and a $500,000 home would see a net tax increase of $332 for the next four years.
The proposed phased-in levy would amount to $3.6 million for taxes payable 2020-2021; $2.7 million for the second year; $1.8 million for the third year and $900,000 for the final year.
“It’s up to the community to decide we want to have larger class sizes than we already have, or pay an extra couple bucks a month,” Board Chair Kristi Peterson said.
The school board will vote to approve the referendum request and budget cuts at its next meeting July 20. The board has expressed support for a referendum in budget shortfall discussions at previous meetings.
If the referendum doesn’t pass, 8% — or 48 teachers — will need to be cut for the 2021-2022 school year.
Even if a levy does pass, there is no getting around additional fat-trimming the district must make.
The district will trim $450,000 for the 2020-2021 school year by not filling five open non-teaching positions next year. It will also trim its non-payroll budgets, like the district-wide supply budget and the staff development fund.
For the 2021-2022 school year, $1.6 million in cuts will largely affect district administration, paraprofessionals and learning coaches. Those cuts will include Shakopee High School Assistant Principal Scott Doran, seven digital learning and instructional coaches, 10 paraprofessionals and a reduction of spending on Learning, Teaching and Equity, impacting at least 22 full-time-equivalent, non-teaching positions.
Another $90,000 in full-time equivalent positions will also be cut from the district’s superintendent office.
Board member Paul Christiansen said the budget discussions are bringing back bad memories and “sour attitudes” from the district’s $4.5 million budget shortfall in 2017, which was the tip of the iceberg in the unraveling of former Superintendent Rod Thompson’s district dollar swindling. Thompson was recently released from a Duluth prison into a halfway house.
“What’s happened in the past is done,” Peterson said. “We’re moving forward, and I think the future of this district is extremely bright. We just have a few bumps in the road.”
Redmond said voters can choose to dwell on the past if they want.
“But I’m choosing to move forward,” he said.
Administration has said Shakopee’s expenses per student can’t be covered by state funding, which has not kept up with inflation — and because the district does not have a voter-approved operating levy like many surrounding districts, Shakopee receives about $1,800 less per pupil than the metro average.
“We will do the absolute best we can to serve our students and serve our communities… but if we’re increasing class sizes and we have cuts to nearly 50 teachers, we simply cannot provide the services exactly the same, or as well,” Redmond said. “We can’t say, that’s just efficiency. It’s not at that point.”
An operating levy, which is used for paying teachers and district administration, is different from a building bond levy, which is used for paying for school buildings and facilities. There are strict laws that prohibit the district from transferring monies from one fund to another.
The last time voters approved a district operating levy in Shakopee was more than 10 years ago.