It's been a tough fiscal year for public schools throughout Minnesota, as constantly changing COVID-19 precautions have caused many families to rethink their academic options.

Detroit Lakes Public Schools is no exception: The district started the 2020-21 school year with 199 fewer students than it had in 2019-20 — a total of 2,732, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade — and enrollment has actually gone down slightly since then.

"As of today, we are at 2,694 students," said Ryan Tangen, the district's business manager, in a Wednesday interview. "That's 253 students less than last year."

Minnesota school districts are allocated state education aid based on their average daily membership, or ADMs, Tangen noted. 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.

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Though much of the decrease was offset by pandemic-related increases to state and federal aid, this boost did not cover the entire deficit — and district administration had to act accordingly, Detroit Lakes Superintendent Mark Jenson said.

Jenson noted that much of the school board's decision on Monday, April 19, to not renew 14 teaching contracts for next year was directly related to budget concerns — but many of those teachers may be rehired, if enrollment projections for next fall hold true.

"Our budget for next year is based on bringing back 75% of what we lost ... we're budgeting for 2,886 students," Jenson said, adding, "If we get more students, we can hire more staff."

Additionally, Jenson said, not all of the staff members whose contracts weren't renewed are being cut; there were several teachers on the list whose licensure requirements meant that the board had to terminate their current contracts before re-hiring them.

"This action takes place each year to address (state) statutes regarding teacher licensure," he said.

Even those whose positions were eliminated were given plenty of advance notice of the board's action, Jenson said, so they could secure employment elsewhere for the coming school year.