Closed schools in Minnesota begin to lay off, furlough staff

The cuts affect educators and others working in fee-based programs, including after-school care or early childhood

Lockers and tables in an empty room.
Normally filled with busy and energetic second graders, a classroom sits empty and silent on March 18, 2020, during the first day of the state-ordered shutdown of schools as part of efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Updated: 8:59 p.m.

Hundreds of educators and other staff in several Minnesota districts have been laid off or furloughed as a result of statewide school closures that are intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Those affected worked in programs that were fee-based, such as community education, after-school care and activities such as swimming instruction. Revenue for the programs in which these staff were employed has dried up as families have stopped paying for programming.

Their funds “are largely supported by fees and those fees came to a stop when schools closed,” said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. “Our school districts are doing everything they can to retain their staff but the unfortunate reality is that the longer the school closure goes, the more school districts will face the reality of having to implement layoffs in fee-based programs.”

Districts have been spending down their reserves to keep their staff afloat, Croonquist added. They’re also trying to carry out the directives from Gov. Tim Walz to provide child care for emergency workers and deliver meals.

Earlier this month, Cambridge-Isanti Schools laid off 38 employees in its community education program, said Superintendent Nate Rudolph. He said most community education programs can fall back on reserves to weather unexpected dips in revenue, but his district had no fund balance because it had charged so little for its services.

“With no fund balance and no revenue coming in, there is no money to cover salaries,” Rudolph said, adding that he expects the situation is just temporary. “I hope that ours is an isolated situation and not representative of school districts in Minnesota.”

While Walz’ executive order directed school districts to pay and retain staff during the schools shutdown, guidance from the state Department of Education excludes staff who work in fee-based programs.

Bloomington Public Schools furloughed 198 hourly staff members from its community education programs, which include before- and after-school care and early childhood day care, said Rick Kaufman, the district’s community relations and emergency management executive director.

Kaufman said the furloughs took effect April 7.

"We kept these employees on payroll until guidance came down from the MN Department of Education that fee-based programs would not be reimbursed," he added.

Other districts that have announced layoffs and furloughs include Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools and Maple River Schools. That’s according to Education Minnesota, the state’s largest teacher union, which is in the process of contacting all districts to come up with a complete list.

Walz ordered all K-12 public and charter schools to close by March 18. That gave educators nearly two weeks to firm up plans on how they would continue teaching, delivering meals and providing other critical services while students were at home. Distance learning began statewide March 30, although many districts started just last week because of spring break.

The governor ordered schools to stay closed through May 4. Walz has said the chances of opening by the end of the school year, however, remain slim.

Riham Feshir contributed to this report.

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