Mankato schools budget cuts proposal includes loss of 100 staff

Kristine Goodrich, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·3 min read

Mar. 26—As Mankato Area Public Schools administrators presented their recommendations for budget cuts, they said their focus was minimizing the impact on classroom learning.

At a workshop Thursday night, district administrators presented School Board members with their plan to cut spending by $7.5 million next school year. The proposal includes cutting the equivalent of nearly 100 staff positions.

The district does not have to set the next budget until June but its leaders are preparing early to make substantial cuts.

Up to $7.5 million in reductions could be needed to balance next school year's budget in the wake of the pandemic, administrators have projected. The district already has used up most of its savings to cover shortfalls this year and last.

Most of the proposed spending reductions involve staffing. Over 80% of the district's operating expenses go toward staff salaries and benefits, Director of Business Services Tom Sager noted.

The proposal includes the loss of the equivalent of 33 teachers from general education classrooms: 13 from the elementary schools, nine from the middle schools and more than 10 from the high schools.

With a continued decline in enrollment projected next year, Director of Teaching and Learning Travis Olson said the classroom teacher reductions will have a nominal impact on class sizes. Some grade levels at some buildings might experience an increase, Olson said, but class size averages across the district will not change.

Supt. Paul Peterson said the classroom teacher cuts are proportionately low but were unavoidable given the amount of cutbacks that are needed.

"There are probably none of these reductions that we could confidently say will have no effect on classrooms. It's just how do we do it with the least impact," he said.

A number of other teaching positions are also on the proposed list of cuts, including more than 10 intervention specialist positions that provide extra support to struggling students, three elementary specialists in areas such as music and art, and 2.5 special education teachers.

Other proposed staff cuts include 21.5 paraprofessionals, eight teacher mentors, six secondary clerical positions, 4.5 custodians, one social worker and one middle school counselor.

The total of nearly 100 positions would not mean 100 staff would lose their jobs. Some positions would have hours reduced and some positions would be left unfilled as staff retire or resign.

The proposal does not include the loss of any principals or other administrative positions. But administrators would be required to take on some additional responsibilities that currently are handled by contractors.

Other proposed cost-cutting measures include trimming professional development, buying fewer new materials for school media centers and reducing substitute teachers by instead using virtual lessons developed during pandemic distance learning.

School Board members asked the administrators to also consider a few other ideas, including administrative salary freezes and asking other staff unions if they'd consider a salary freeze if it would avert layoffs.

Peterson said his administrative team will collect feedback on the plan from board members and district staff in coming days and might revise the proposal.

Administrators will present a final recommendation at the April 5 board meeting.

The $7.5 million target assumes worst-case revenue forecasts, including no additional state aid and only a small rebound in enrollment next year.

The district will receive some additional federal dollars from the latest coronavirus relief package.Minnesota is receiving more than $1 billion to distribute to schools. But Sager cautioned that it's unknown how much Mankato will receive and there may be restrictions on how the district can use those one-time dollars.