Shakopee school officials have received some uplifting news: The 2017-18 budget may balance after all.
Last month, Acting Superintendent Jon McBroom braced board members for what he called a "worst-case scenario" — a $500,000 deficit that would require deep cuts. But new projections bring signs of hope for the financially strapped district.
The revised budget will reflect a $36,042 cash infusion to the general fund balance, which dropped from $2.5 million to $1.1 million last fiscal year. Policy states that the unassigned fund balance should hover between 8 percent and 12 percent of annual spending; by June 30, the balance had dwindled to 0.7 percent.
"If we were to have any catastrophic events in our district, it would be really hard to deal with that," said Interim Superintendent Gary Anger, who returned from medical leave last week.
If the revised budget holds up through June, McBroom recommended stashing away extra revenue to begin rebuilding the fund balance. The endeavor will take time and discipline, he said.
During Tuesday's board meeting, former Director of Finance Suzanne Johnson spent about an hour examining budget line-items for board members to increase transparency.
After Superintendent Rod Thompson resigned in June following allegations that he had misused his school credit card, Johnson led efforts to revamp purchase card (P-card) policies and helped form the Citizens' Financial Advisory Committee to oversee the district's finances. She resigned last month, returning to her previous job as controller for Hopkins Public Schools.
E-mails: Romansky felt pressure to quit
In the wake of Mary Romansky's recent surprise resignation from the Shakopee school board, e-mails obtained by the Star Tribune appear to confirm her contention that she felt pressured into leaving the board.
Romansky, 61, had planned to finish her term and retire at the end of the year, but said she changed her mind after an uncomfortable conversation with Board Chairman Scott Swanson. In a one-on-one meeting, Swanson told her of his concerns and those of colleagues about her level of engagement on the board.
She said the discussion led her to send board members a terse e-mail saying that she was leaving the board, without giving a reason why. In response, Swanson wrote: "I respect your decision. Thank you for your message and for 20 years of selfless service to the district."
Romansky signed off with the reply, "You gave me no choice."
"I'm sorry you feel that way," Swanson said, according to e-mails obtained through a public records request. "The choice is, has and will always be yours."
Board members so far have agreed that Romansky's seat should be filled by appointment before the fall election.
Swanson said in an interview that questions have swirled around Romansky's work since 2015, when she was hospitalized with a brain bleed. He said he tried to delicately broach the subject after she'd reached her 20-year milestone with the district.
Romansky said she felt that was unfair, and later defended her attendance record and her mental health.
"I speak funny, but I remember everything," she said.
City, ex-firefighter settle discrimination suit
The city of Eagan has reached a settlement with Daniel Benson, once a paid on-call firefighter, after Benson alleged in a lawsuit last spring that the city discriminated against him because he is gay, according to an Eagan news release.
The lawsuit was dismissed in federal court Jan. 16 and the City Council approved the settlement of $50,000 at its Jan. 16 meeting, with $33,333 to be paid to Benson and $16,667 to his attorney, Paul Applebaum.
Benson, who resigned from his job in January, sued the city and Fire Chief Mike Scott, claiming that he was demoted from his position as a battalion chief because of his sexual orientation, which had recently been revealed during a getting-to-know-you exercise at work. He sought compensatory damages as well as punitive damages and legal fees.
The city said departmental restructuring resulted in Benson's position change. Scott also wrote a letter listing seven reasons for Benson's demotion, including using his personal cellphone for department business, missing trainings and posting videos online from an emergency scene.
Benson responded that the concerns mentioned were fabricated, insignificant or not communicated to him as problematic, and he alleged that Scott was actually demoting him because of his sexual orientation. Benson was replaced with a heterosexual battalion chief.
The city and Scott continue to deny that any discrimination occurred, the news release said.
"Officials recognized the cost of a trial on the merits would have been quite expensive," said city spokesman Tom Garrison, adding that insurance covered all but $9,000 of the settlement.
Bill proposes $52.8M to clean up landfill
Gov. Mark Dayton recommended allotting $52.8 million to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to clean up Burnsville's Freeway Landfill via the state's Closed Landfill Program in his 2018 public works bonding bill, proposed in late January. In total, the governor's proposal would fund $1.5 billion in projects across the state.
In 2016, it appeared the landfill would enter the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund program. That meant nearly 200 entities responsible for putting trash in the landfill — from counties to trash haulers — were left holding the cleanup bill last winter.
That changed when Dayton signed the environmental omnibus bill in May 2017, which shifted liability from private parties and public entities to the landfill's owner and/or the state.
The question of who should clean up the 150-acre dump just off Interstate 35W in Burnsville, which accepted trash between 1969 and 1990, has lingered for years. The site teems with heavy metals and harmful chemicals and could pollute groundwater and the Minnesota River, MPCA officials said.
Clean up costs will total $60 million or more. The McGowan family, which has long owned the Freeway Landfill, counters that the landfill isn't toxic at all.