Mankato public schools to lay off 100 as parents turn to homeschooling, other options

Parents have learned a lot during the pandemic. All over the state and nation, public schools see a decline in enrollment as parents personally pick up teaching duties at home or redirect their children to schools offering in-person learning.

The shift could be a temporary phenomenon that fades away, along with the distance and hybrid learning imposed by the education establishment in response to COVID-19. But school districts have to factor in the enrollment decline and associated loss in funding as they budget for the academic year next fall.

The Mankato school district, for example, plans to lay off some 100 staff due to a $7.5 million shortfall anticipated because of lower enrollment, according to the Free Press.

The adopted plan includes one adjustment from the proposal reviewed by the board last month. The cuts to the district administration’s budget increased by $75,000 and cuts to discretionary funds to schools for student support initiatives decreased by an equal amount.

District administrators recommended and the School Board approved over $7.5 million in cutbacks. That’s the same amount as the projected deficit they say has been created by the pandemic — namely from a drop in enrollment.

“This is a larger adjustment, but we do feel this is going to put us on a firm foundation for our future,” said Supt. Paul Peterson.

One of the lessons resulting from the last year is that parents wield more clout than they may realize because schools receive funding on a per pupil basis. And most of that funding–some 75 percent in Mankato–goes not into the classroom, but rather to teacher and staff salaries and benefits.

It’s also instructive to note the changes will not apparently affect class size.

Additional lost teaching positions include 10 intervention specialists who work with students who need extra instructional support, three elementary specialists in areas such as physical education and music, three special education assessment positions and 2.5 special education teachers.

Staff cuts also include nearly 22 paraprofessionals and other non-licensed student support staff, nine teacher mentors, six secondary clerical positions, nearly five custodians, one social worker and one middle school counselor.

Other proposed cost-cutting measures include trimming professional development, reducing supply budgets and decreasing the use of substitute teachers at the high schools by instead using virtual lessons developed during pandemic distance learning.

Much can and likely will change as families assess their options between now and next fall. But the fallout from schools’ decision to largely shut students out of the classroom for a year will clearly be a factor for some time to come.