Morenci school enrollment takes a drop 10.1

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Morenci school superintendent Kyle Griffith expected a decline in enrollment for the 2008-09 school year and he crafted a budget showing 20 fewer pupils.

Unfortunately, even that wasn’t a deep enough cut.

The official student count day last Thursday left Morenci with an enrollment of 842 students, down from 871 a year ago and eight fewer than predicted.

Griffith knows that enrollment declines are a statewide trend. A year ago, 406 of the state’s 552 public schools showed declining enrollment. He’s looked at a 10-year study of Lenawee County schools that shows losses in eight of the county’s 12 public schools.

Still, Morenci’s steady decline over the past three years and the general downward trend over the past dozen is a matter of great concern. With Michigan’s continuing economic troubles, the problem could worsen as families continue to leave the state to find jobs elsewhere.

State legislators are hinting that per-pupil state aid will increase, but that won’t make up for Morenci’s shortfall with enrollment at eight students less than expected.

A decline was anticipated due to the difference between last year’s graduating class and the number of kindergarten registrations.

When classes opened in August, the kindergarten enrollment stood at an unusually low 47—13 fewer than a year ago and a fraction of the size 50 years ago when an all-time high of 117 students were starting school.

Looking ahead, the difference between this year’s senior class and the kindergarten class is 20 students, signaling an additional decline a year from now.

It’s a situation that board members and administrators find very frustrating.

“The community needs to applaud the board because they’ve made some tough decisions to protect the classroom,” Griffith said, “but this time we may not have an option.

“We need to make sure the size of our teaching staff fits our enrollment,” he said. “Finding the right fit, unfortunately, most likely results in layoffs.”

In addition to cuts in the teaching staff, Griffith said he will look at reductions in bus routes and other areas where declining enrollment makes an impact.

“We will continue to work hard to control the things we can control financially and take advantage of opportunities that occur,” he said.

He intends to hold off staffing decisions until the spring so that changes will come at the start of a new school year.

Where are they going?

Over the past dozen years of declining enrollment, administrators have never been able to grasp any clear reason for the trend.

Despite a small seventh grade class, enrollment increased from last year by 13 students in the middle school. Elementary school enrollment went down by 10 as a growth in the developmental kindergarten class moderated part of the huge drop in the kindergarten.

The biggest change came at the high school level. The smallest class in the school—tenth grade with 44 students—decreased by six over the summer. The junior class lost eight students over the summer and the senior class fell by 13.

Administrators haven’t yet had the opportunity to track down where those 27 students are now attending school—if they’re enrolled at all—although Griffith knows a small number are taking classes in Morenci’s alternative school program.

Losses to neighboring districts through the schools of choice option won’t be announced for several weeks, but Griffith said Morenci enrolled 15 new schools of choice students in addition to those enrolled last year. In the last school year, 50 students attended school here from other districts while 44 from Morenci chose to go elsewhere.

Griffith could have nearly matched his budgeted expectations through schools of choice, but seven students were turned away due to disciplinary or behavioral problems in their home district.

“I think it’s good that we’re not just taking anybody,” Griffith said. “We’re careful with who we take and we want to maintain our high standards.”

  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.carry.casket
    CARRYING—Riley Terry (blue jacket) and Mason Vaughn lead the way, carrying an empty casket outside to the hearse waiting at the curb. Morenci juniors and seniors visited Eagle Funeral Home last week to learn about the role of a funeral director and to understand the process of arranging for a funeral.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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