What will school look like for Shakopee Public Schools this fall? This is a common question and is currently on many minds.

Without a doubt, we want to open the doors on Sept. 8 just like a normal school year. However, the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 has brought additional complexities to planning for a new school year. As a district, the health and safety of our students and staff members is extremely important.

A group of teachers, directors and administrators in Shakopee have been working on plans for three different scenarios: opening school like normal with social distancing measures, a hybrid approach that would have a mix of in-person and distance learning, and only distance learning. We appreciate the feedback that the district has received from students and parents about distance learning this spring. This feedback was very valuable in making necessary adjustments in case distance learning will be needed again.

The Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Health will be providing specific details about what school in the fall should look like by the end of July. As soon as the district has more information and direction, we will be finalizing plans and communicating this to our community.

A primary focus of being a school board member is planning for the future. While we — like everyone — have been consumed with how best to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we are also looking at our financial foundation.

Education funding is a shared partnership between the state and federal governments, and local communities. However, state funding has not kept pace with inflation, leaving a $5 million annual funding gap for our district. We receive less and spend less per student than the metro and state averages. We do not have a voter-approved operating levy, which most Minnesota school districts have, to help provide local support for their schools’ operating costs. We, like all Minnesota school districts, are also faced with funding important programs for which we are not fully reimbursed by the state and federal governments. Combined, these financial realities put increasing pressure on our budget and our expenses will exceed our revenue.

The primary way school districts increase revenue is by asking voters to approve an operating levy — something the majority of Minnesota school districts have done. In Shakopee, we currently don’t have a voter-approved levy.

Shakopee is in a unique position. Because we are paying off debt, we have the opportunity to increase revenue through an operating levy with no school net tax increase for residents until 2022. Given the economic challenges created by COVID-19, that is welcome news.

Over the last eight to 10 weeks, the board has been reviewing options to balance our budget, including budget cuts, an operating levy or a combination of both.

Our financial goals are to:

  • Maintain quality programming and learning opportunities for students.
  • Attract, retain, and fairly compensate high-quality teachers.
  • Build a path to long-term financial stability.

If you have ever managed people in a business setting either currently or in the past, you may have had to make decisions that affect the livelihood of people. Personally, I have been on both sides of these decisions: first as an employee who was part of reductions, and then as a manager that was tasked with making tough decisions about the livelihood of employees. In both situations, it gave me a rotten feeling.

As the school board plans for the long-term financial stability of our district, I can assure you that the entire school board is experiencing these same emotions. People are the heart and engine of a school district, and people are the bulk of our budget. Due to the previously described financial realities, we are faced with difficult decisions, including budget cuts.

Deciding what to cut is incredibly challenging. Many people — including district leaders, principals and others, have spent a significant amount of time evaluating their respective buildings and departments to determine efficiencies, including the evaluation of open positions that could remain vacant, as well as salary and hiring freezes.

At our July 20 board meeting, we will make final decisions on two sets of cuts: one totals $2 million and must happen no matter what else we do. The second set of $5.4 million in cuts is needed if we don’t receive any additional revenue.

As a board, we understand how serious of a situation that our financial challenges are and the impact it will have on our district. Recognizing the proposed salary freezes and cuts throughout the district that were presented during our June 22 meeting, our school board members decided to voluntarily forgo our stipends for the upcoming school year.

If the $5.4 million in cuts is required, Shakopee Public Schools will not look the same. Classroom teachers across the district would be cut, middle school athletic programs would not be available, students in fifth grade would not have the opportunity to participate in band, reductions would be made to academic and support programs, and the list goes on.

A thriving community is a result of a thriving school district. People move into communities with strong schools. We want to do all we can to avoid several million dollars in budget cuts, which would hurt the livelihood of our students, teachers and the growth of our community.

As a school board, we work hard to be transparent with the community. The school board will be hosting a virtual coffee chat on July 15 from 6:30–7:30 p.m. To access this event, visit the school website or social media channels for more information. In addition, you can visit the Finance Facts section of the district website to learn more — and view all the school board materials and recent meeting videos to see what we are discussing. An input form is also available on the Finance Facts section to provide your feedback in advance of the July 20 meeting.

The community does have a voice and the board values your feedback. Thank you for working in partnership with us to support our students and our staff!

Kristi Peterson is the chair of the Shakopee School Board. Peterson also serves on the finance, community engagement, and citizens’ communications advisory committees. Peterson was elected to the school board in November 2018.

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