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Lakeville Area Schools plans to make significant staffing cuts

"We just have to make reductions of $7 million and there's no way around it," the superintendent said.

LAKEVILLE, Minn. — Lakeville Area Public Schools is proposing more than $7 million in cuts for the 2023-2024 school year. 

At Monday's school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Doug Van Zyl presented the plan, which calls for the majority of cuts to be in staffing.

"About 90 percent of our budget that we're going to be talking about is expenditures in staffing and so staffing is going to be impacted," Zyl said. "This is difficult. None of us want to be in this particular situation."

Johannah Surma attended the meeting. She's an eighth-grade English teacher at Kenwood Trail Middle School.

"Many of us have been informed that our jobs are potentially on the line," Surma told KARE 11 on Tuesday. "We are advocating really strongly for what we think is best for our school."

Lakeville is one of Minnesota's fastest-growing cities. So, what lead up to this? 

According to the school district, as enrollment has grown, so have the resources needed for students. However, when enrollment dipped slightly during the pandemic, revenue dropped, too. Yet expenses increased, especially in the last year, and the district doesn't have enough savings.

Zyl described the cause as "a perfect storm" of events. He also explained that the district's unassigned general fund balance is essentially a savings account and that previous leadership dipped into that savings. He says five years ago, the fund balance was just below 13 percent.

"A school district our size, I would recommend you should be at 8-10 percent," he said. "We have to slowly build that back up."

Surma has worked for the district for seven years and is waiting to see what happens. She'll be watching for updates, not only on staffing cuts, but also programming, as part of the proposal included dropping sixth- and seventh-grade literary instruction from 90 minutes per day to 40.

"The district has stated that it has tried to avoid classroom cuts as much as possible but many of the cuts that they proposed go directly to the heart of classroom instruction for students at all levels," she said.

The budget must be finalized by June 30 but the superintendent said the district wants to act sooner than that. He said people have asked why the district doesn't wait until the legislative session ends to see where the money falls but said he doesn't believe that's appropriate for staff. He also said he doesn't believe the state would provide the money, despite its $17.5 billion budget surplus. 

In January, the district says it sent out a community survey and 350 staff members responded to a survey in February. An external demographic study, community survey and capacity study were also completed and are being reviewed.

"If we do fall below the statutory requirements of where we have operating debt then you have the state step in, and the state comes in and says, 'This is what you have to do,'" Zyl said. "There is no conversation. There is no discussion."


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