This has been an extraordinary year for our nation, our state, our community, and our schools. We’ve weathered many storms together, learning in a pandemic, moving into and out of different learning models, adjusting to mitigation strategies and a temporary new normal. As a new superintendent, it has been amazing and inspiring to me to see the partnership between our schools, our parents, and our community to do everything we can to support our students.
Through it all, our commitment as a district team has been to push through the challenges to continue to provide a quality education for each student. It hasn’t been easy, for our students and their families or our staff. Teaching and learning during a pandemic has no playbook, and we are navigating through it together.
Another complicating factor this year are the continued impacts of the failure of the 2019 referendum. The district was forced to make $6 million in budget cuts for this school year, and is currently in the process of considering an additional $3 million in budget cuts for the 2021-22 school year. Those cuts have been felt throughout our district, in increased class sizes, a shift to a six-period day at the high schools this year and middle schools next year, salary freezes, and staff reductions.
Our community has high expectations of our schools, as it should. I am continually impressed by the ways in which our staff has gone above and beyond to serve students, in a pandemic, while trying to adapt to an environment changed by those cuts. While COVID financial relief from the state and federal government has helped fill some needs (like air filtration systems in our buildings), this one-time funding comes with very specific designations for use, and can’t be used to fill gaps in our general fund which have been exacerbated by enrollment loss experienced by public schools statewide this year.
Many in the community are wondering what’s next for the district, and when and if we might seek voter approval for a new referendum. Our school board is very diligently looking at the district’s enrollment and financial forecasts, our budgetary needs, facility needs, and other data points including a community survey as it considers next steps. A final decision on whether to go out for another referendum will be made this June by the school board.
As we enter the home stretch of this school year, our focus continues to be on our students: ensuring their health and safety while providing a quality education and an exceptional experience. That focus drives every decision we make and everything we do each day in our buildings. I am proud of the work we have all done as a partnership, parents, staff, students, and community, to get through a year like no other together.
(Published in the Chaska Herald and Chanhassen Villager newspapers, April 22, 2021.)