The Shakopee school board has authorized $2.4 million in proposed budget cuts for the 2018-19 school year, in part by closing a school for sixth graders and cutting a mix of district staffers.
The board also appointed retired teacher Judith Tomczik to the vacant board seat left open by Mary Romansky’s abrupt resignation in January. Tomczik, who taught for 44 years in Shakopee, is expected to join the board in early June following a waiting period of 30 business days.
The board plans to save about $871,000 by closing Pearson 6th Grade Center and another $788,000 in staffing reductions. But board members told district administrators to reconsider a proposed $30,000 slash to middle school sports, in order to save programming for the 700-plus children who participate.
“I want more activities for kids,” Board Member Tony Pass said. “I know we’re not in that position right now, but taking them away is never a good option.”
In recent weeks, the school board has reviewed cost reductions to accommodate increased spending at the expanded high school, which will begin housing ninth-graders this fall. Tough cuts to special education, technology and staffing are crucial to maintaining the district’s fiscal health, said Interim Superintendent Gary Anger.
Tomczik will join the board at a time of transition for the district, which has weathered back-to-back budget deficits and a major scandal involving former Superintendent Rod Thompson, who resigned last summer amid accusations of embezzling public funds.
During her formal interview with the board Monday, Tomczik said that she’s up to the challenge.
“People have expressed to me concern that a former teacher in the district would be on the school board, and wonder how my background would influence my participation,” said Tomczik, who plans to run for a full four-year term this fall.
“The first thing I would say is, teachers aren’t one monolithic way of thinking ... First I represent students, and I represent parents, and I represent the community.”
All six board members gave Tomczik high marks for her education background and her interview. She “answered the questions with insight, experience, open-mindedness. I’m incredibly impressed,” said Board Member Matt McKeand. “I think she’d be a strong asset to this board.”
Tomczik emerged as the sole finalist for the job last week following the unexpected withdrawal of schools advocate Julie Maynard-Johnson, who faced a backlash online from residents who charged that she was too chummy with the current board.
She pulled her application just days before her scheduled interview, citing concerns that opponents would try to block her appointment and stage a protest against her.
“I want to avoid both actions, as it is in the best interest of the school district to move forward in a positive direction without added controversy,” Maynard-Johnson wrote in an April 18 e-mail to board members. “It’s unfortunate that my desire to be on the board has elicited such vitriol, as it was my intention to serve for the betterment of the district.”
At Monday’s board meeting, several members expressed disappointment that Maynard-Johnson felt the need to take that step.
“I am angry and I am disappointed that some members of our community judged her without knowing her,” said Board Member Shawn Hallett. “It shows her character ... she was selfless in deciding that her desire to serve needed to take a back seat to what she believed was in the best interest of this district.”
Maynard-Johnson endorsed Tomczik for the job, saying that she seemed like a safe pick to help move the board — and students — forward.
Board Chairman Scott Swanson praised all eight candidates who applied for the board seat, thanking them for offering their names at a time when the district needed them.
“Quite frankly, this isn’t the most attractive job in Minnesota at the moment,” he said.
In an interview with the Star Tribune, Maynard-Johnson encouraged the district’s most vocal critics to run for office this fall.
“Anyone concerned about the direction of this district needs to get involved,” she said. “Sitting on the sidelines and posting on social media is not going to get us there.”