Morenci school budget approved 06.30.2010

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

It’s going to be another year of deficit spending for Morenci Area Schools as the district’s savings continues to decline.

District finance director Erica Metcalf told board members last week that current fiscal year spending could end up with a deficit as high as $100,000, but she expects it to be less.

For 2008-09, the forecast called for a deficit of $150,000, but it ended about half that amount.

Metcalf presented the board with a worst-case deficit of $300,000 for the next school year. She based that on an additional state aid cut of $268 a student and an enrollment of 764 students.

The cut from the state might not be as great as projected, she said, but the district needs to prepare for the worst situation—and hope for the best, she added.

With so many students moving in and out of the district, Metcalf said that enrollment is an even greater wild card than the state’s foundation allowance.

Many districts across the state are seeing an increase in delinquent taxes, she said, which causes a cash shortfall until the county fills the gap.

Increases in retirement costs equates to a per-student cost of about $150, according to state estimates.

“It’s impressive how much has been cut,” Metcalf said.

A year ago the district borrowed $1.1 million in anticipation of state aid funds; this year $700,000 will be borrowed.

“That’s a step in the right direction,” she said.

Metcalf doesn’t expect the shortfall to stay as high as $300,000, but many unknowns remain.

“All in all, with as much uncertainty as we face, while it’s hard to say that I’m pleased with a $300,000 deficit,” she said, “we’ve made up some serious ground.”

Supt. Michael Osborne spoke of the frustration of facing a large deficit despite the many cuts already made.

“This is projected to be one of the worst years yet,” he said, “and even with all the work we’ve done, we still are looking at a deficit that’s larger than we’ve ever seen before.”

He would like to be able to start adding back in the fall instead of making cuts, but that won’t be known until later if that’s possible.

School board president Scott Merillat also expressed his gratitude to staff members for the cuts and adjustments made.

Earlier in the year, he said, a $700,000 deficit looked like a possibility, with cash savings of only $650,000.

Budgeted spending for the next school year stands at $6 million, down from $6.7 million in the current year.

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