Morenci enrollment drops 2009.09.23

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Where have all the children gone?

Montana, Tennessee, New York, Florida and Ohio. Adrian, Tecumseh, Onsted and Madison.

Nearly 60 students who attended school in Morenci last year are no longer enrolled here, and most of them have moved out of the district.

Only a few still live in the district and attend another nearby school. A few others returned to their home districts after attending Morenci  through the Schools of Choice option. The vast majority have simply moved away.

The fiscal year budget passed by the board of education in June projected a loss of 20 students, but as of last week, the decline stood at 58.

The 2009-10 budget included a deficit of a quarter million dollars—backed up by savings—but now there’s an additional $200,000 loss to deal with.

In actuality, Michigan school administrators don’t know what they’ll receive in state aid. They’re still awaiting a decision from Lansing.

Morenci superintendent Kyle Griffith has warned board members in the past that staff cuts were possible if enrollment fell. The current predicament didn’t come as a surprise, Griffith said, but he was shocked by the scope of the decrease.

“The numbers are low enough that we need to respond immediately,” he said. “I don’t think we’re in a position to wait until the end of the year.”

Lay-off notices were delivered last week to 21 staff members, including 10 teachers. Griffith doesn’t expect the board will lay off anywhere near that number of teachers, but adjustments in staffing will likely lead to some teacher layoffs.

“Although 10 teachers, five paraprofessionals, two secretaries and two bus drivers have been notified, when all is said and done, we will need to make enough adjustments to deal with the enrollment drop,” Griffith explained.

By issuing pink slips now, the board and administration will have the flexibility to consider a variety of options before the start of the second trimester in late November, when the layoffs take effect.

Staff reductions will be based on seniority and qualifications, with consideration given to No Child Left Behind requirements.

Some teachers with high seniority may be affected when those at the low end are laid off. A juggling of duties could result in some veteran teachers taking on teaching assignments they don’t normally handle.

“We’ve really fought hard to protect the classroom in recent years,” Griffith said. “We’re hoping to keep things intact as much as possible to maintain a quality education.”

Last year marked the first teacher cuts since 2004. Since then, savings have been realized through other methods, such as combining administrative duties.

Administrators decided in July to continue their pay freeze for the third year. For Griffith, this is the fifth consecutive year that he’s requested no increase. Teachers are starting the second year of a three-year contract.

 Griffith believes the district is making the right move to tackle staff reductions part-way through the school year rather than wait. Taking no action would lead to the elimination of the district’s fund equity savings.

It’s a simple business decision, he said. If you have fewer students, you have to adjust.

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