Detroit Lakes schools looking to regain 75% of students lost to COVID when classes start this fall

School budgets — both a final one for this past year and an initial one for 2021-22 — were the main topic of discussion at Monday morning's regular meeting of the Detroit Lakes School Board. District administration is planning for the return of as much as 75% of the 238 students it lost due to last year's pandemic restrictions, which would go a long way toward improving the bottom line.

Construction at Detroit Lakes High School is in full swing this summer, with the west side parking lot having been entirely removed and access to that side of the building being restricted mainly to construction crews. High school improvements account for roughly half of the $60 million district-wide project, with completion slated for next summer. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

In his last meeting as the Detroit Lakes School District's business manager, Ryan Tangen presented a final district budget for 2020-21, and an initial budget for 2021-22 — both of which were approved by unanimous vote on Monday morning.

After having lost 238 students during the past year, mainly due to state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions, the district is projecting that they will regain as many as 178 of them — or 75%.

Administration and staff are hoping last year's enrollment drop was "a blip on the radar," Tangen said.
"Enrollment is the most important piece — student numbers drive your revenues, and your expenditures," he added, noting that state education aid accounts for 80% of the district's general fund revenues — to the tune of about $38 million a year.

General fund revenue is what funds employee salaries and benefits, supplies and purchased services.

With Detroit Lakes' budgeted 2020-21 general education revenue being based on 2,748 students, the decrease resulted in a net loss of $1.6 million in general education revenue from the state.


That, in turn, led to the board's decision in April to approve the termination and non-renewal of 14 full-time teaching contracts — though Tangen noted that this staff reduction had been a long time coming, as the number of teachers employed by the district this past year was roughly the same as in 2016-17 — when it reached a peak enrollment of 3,015 students.

Superintendent Mark Jenson also noted at Monday's board meeting that if enrollment projections hold true, they may actually be looking at adding a few more teachers this year.

In addition, Tangen said the district has received roughly $7 million in overall COVID-19 relief from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Of course, school construction has also been a major factor in the district's finances over the past year as well, Tangen said. Construction expenditures account for virtually all of the $20 million budget deficit in 2020-21, with most of that funding coming from $50 million in school construction bonds approved by district voters in 2018, especially for the $60 million project.

Another $13.9 million is being spent on school construction in 2021-22, which accounts for more than the $13.7 million projected deficit; if it weren't for school construction, the overall budget would actually show a slightly positive balance for the coming year, Tangen noted.

In other business at Monday's meeting, the board recognized 2021 Detroit Lakes Public Schools Teacher of the Year Todd Jackson, who is a physical education teacher at both Rossman Elementary School and the Area Learning Center. They also honored Tangen for his seven years of service to the school district; he will be leaving June 30 to take on a position as finance and operations director at the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District.

He will be succeeded by former Rossman Elementary Principal Jason Kuehn, who has accepted the position of district finance and operations director. Kuehn's successor as Rossman principal has yet to be determined, though Jenson said Monday morning that candidate interviews for the position were expected to conclude on Tuesday.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at
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