Morenci school layoffs. 04.07.10

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

How low can you go?

Morenci school administrators will decide the answer to that question as they face the challenge of an anticipated deficit ranging from $600,000 to $900,000.

Morenci Area Schools finance director Erica Metcalf presented a budget update at the April 1 board of education meeting. Her goal was to give board members an idea of how the district will end the current school year and to look ahead to 2010-11.

Metcalf reminded the board that the current budget approved last June showed a quarter million dollar deficit, backed by fund equity savings.

The board intended to trim the deficit during the school year, but the larger-than-expected drop in enrollment made that difficult.

A decrease in enrollment was anticipated in the budget, but when classes started last August, there were 30 students fewer than expected. That resulted in the fund equity dropping another $165,000, bringing savings below $415,000.

However, staff cuts made last November reduced the blow by $155,000,  Metcalf said, placing the anticipated fund equity for June 30 of this year at $551,000.

Projecting an additional loss of students and further cuts in the state’s school aid payments, the worse case scenario shows a shortfall ranging from $600,000 to $900,000.

That would wipe out all savings and it’s what prompted the board to plan for additional staff cuts.

Layoff notices will be given to 16 staff members effective with the next school year, ranging from paraprofessionals to teachers.

Board president Scott Merillat anticipates that many of those employees will be called back when additional information about savings is known. An official layoff notice must be given in advance even though the board doesn’t yet know where the cuts will be made.

“There are still a lot of unknowns for this year and the next,” Metcalf said, including enrollment, state aid and insurance cost increases.

The latest talk from Lansing calls for an additional cut of $118 a student, taking state aid down to the amount given five years ago despite cost increases the district faces.

Metcalf’s deficit projection takes into account recent retirements and a resignation, and filling the openings from within the current staff; concessions made by teachers, secretaries and paraprofessionals; and savings from sharing a superintendent with Hudson.

Metcalf said she’s spoken with Hudson school chief Dr. Michael Osborne about other possible savings. The conversations were very encouraging, she said, and she expects additional savings to follow.

“We’ve covered a lot of ground, but there’s definitely a lot of ground yet to cover,” she said.

She praised the efforts of Morenci staff members in working together to look for savings.

After enrollment dipped by 57 students over the summer in 2009, the board sent layoff notices to 21 staff members. When cuts were finally announced, only a small number of the layoffs held.

By giving layoff notices early, the administration was able to consider several options for staff reductions and realignment of teaching duties before choosing a final path to follow.

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