On Nov. 3, voters in Shakopee School District will decide what the future of our schools will look like. When I began on the board in 2018, fiscal responsibility was my main focus. I believe that the operating levy our board unanimously approved is a balanced approach. It takes the concerns in this COVID world and balances them with the needs of the district.
Since 2017, the district has had several different superintendents and finance directors in addition to new board members who have worked hard to build a new future.
At the beginning of 2020, when our board started talking about a possible levy request, I wasn’t sure of my stance. I knew that some building bonds were coming off the tax rolls in 2021, so if a levy was passed the impact on taxpayers would be modest. I also thought we should be able to cut some spending to balance the budget. I started looking at the district financial projections for the next several years and numbers were not favorable.
This brings me to the complexities of school finances. I’m a Chief Financial Officer by trade, and now the Treasurer of the board. I look hard at our district’s finances. Since 2003, state funding has not kept pace with inflation, much less increasing educational costs/needs. Either a district will constantly need to cut employees or not fill open positions just to balance the budget — or the district will need to raise revenue. We are attempting to do both.
First, we focused on cuts. The board approved permanent budget cuts of $450,000 for the 2020-21 school year and $1,600,000 for 2021-22. None of these cuts includes classroom teaching positions. Not counted in the budget cuts is $900,000 in one-time cost savings. The board approved an additional $5.4 million in budget cuts for 2021-22, which only will take effect if the proposed levy is not approved by voters. This would be a broad-based and deep set of cuts across the district.
Then, we looked at increasing revenue through an operating levy. The district does not currently have a voter-approved operating levy. That limits our revenue and ability to support programs/staff.
The levy request would be phased-in over four years. If approved, the final total in year four of $1,000 per student is still well below most comparable districts. Local property owners would not see a tax increase in 2021. The total net tax impact on the average homeowner over the first four years would be approximately $198 — a little over $4 a month. After year four, the total net tax increase and $1,000 per pupil in operating revenue will remain in place from 2025-2030 with no further tax increases.
The phased-in levy combined with budget cuts is a responsible solution. I don’t like paying taxes, none of us do, but this levy is the best way to help fund the district and maintain current programming.
Shakopee School Board treasurer