Emails detail internal conversations over Shakopee budget error

In internal emails, the superintendent for Shakopee Public Schools expressed frustration over a $4.5 million budget shortfall, but also expressed optimism in the district’s ability to tackle the error and communicate the problem to the public.

The emails, obtained by Fox 9 through an open records request, disclose conversations between Rod Thompson, the superintendent, and other district leaders. The emails were sent before and after the budget error was made public.

On Oct. 28, 2016, in an email to two board members, Dr. Thompson wrote the list of human errors is “long, and frankly somewhat unexplainable…Many of the ‘human errors’ are the types of mistakes that a first year business manager would have caught and not made. Something has gone really wrong in world…”

On Oct. 31, Dr. Thompson emailed Mike Burlager, the finance director, writing “I will need a narrative by line item why the number or projection was wrong.”

On Nov. 22, Scott Swanson, the board president, emailed the board, writing the “intention is to own the audit, the shortfall, the ‘why’s’ without unnecessarily dwelling on it. We wish to move on to the next critical stage - repair and recovery.”

Burlager took responsibility for the mistake at a board meeting on Dec. 12, although the his comments received little public attention.

Months later, on Mar. 9, 2017, some teachers were notified of the problem and possible job losses. That evening, Thompson emailed the finance director that the “rumors, gossip and negative feelings about budget reductions have caused us to reach out to staff with the facts as we know them.” The next day, Mar. 10,  2017, Thompson sent a district wide email notifying staff of the mistake.

Days before the first board meeting to follow the disclosure, Thompson emailed a board member, writing “I think some staff will puff their chests Monday night at the board meeting. I guess this too shall pass though.” The Monday meeting, on Mar. 13, was contentious, with parents and teachers expressing anger over how the error was being handled.

On Mar. 30, Thompson apologized for the timing in how the district had communicated the mistake. In April, the school district announced an outside party was hired to investigate the “organizational health of the district.”

On May 8, the school board approved a revised 2016-2017 budget; the budget narrowed the $4.5 million shortfall to $710,000, and used general fund money for those remaining dollars. Some of those cuts include the superintendent stopping his planned raise, and nine non-tenured teachers who could lose their jobs—although the district hopes the number is below nine.