By DAVID GREEN
When the students in Morenci’s senior class started first grade in 1998, there were 71 pupils in three classrooms.
When they walk across the stage next May to receive their diplomas, only 42—or fewer—students will be present.
The Class of 2011 will represent the smallest graduating class since the mid-1950s before consolidation with the country schools.
Not all of Morenci’s classes have declined that dramatically, but there are currently three classes that number in the 40s and three others in the low 50s.
It’s part of a long trend in the district, one that’s been exacerbated by the state’s economic woes.
Morenci certainly isn’t alone in experiencing a decline in enrollment, although four districts showed minimal losses and Madison posted a gain of 12 students. Throughout the county, enrollment declined by about 400 students, including Morenci’s loss of 39 from a year ago.
“It seems to be economics again,” said Morenci Superintendent of Schools Michael Osborne. “Thirty-nine is a small number compared to the total who come in and out [during the school year]. Lots of families are moving. These are difficult times.”
Osborne said that even without the economic factors, population projections made in 2000 showed that school districts in this area would lose students.
A projection for the Hudson district, for example, estimated that enrollment would drop to about 600 students by 2010, but there are actually more than 900 enrolled.
“I’m pleased that it’s stayed as high as it has, even with the economy,” he said.
This year’s decline is close to what the administration projected for budgeting purposes earlier in the year. The budget was based on a loss of 35 students.
“It’s never good to say that you’re losing students,” Osborne told board of education members Monday, “but as far as the budget is concerned, we’re about where we thought we’d be. If there’s any good news, that’s it.”
On the official count day last week, Morenci’s enrollment stood at 760.
RETIREES—Eleven retirees were honored at the meeting: administrator Kay Johnson; teachers Norma Marks, Gina Miklos, Lori Garrow and Mike McDowell; and support staff Georgia Zuvers, Melony VanBrandt, Jim Petry, Rosine Downing, Shirley Hillard and Sandra Hilton.
CAMP—Jane Brasher-Garrow presented a report on the annual fifth-grade camping experience. The camp offers many experiences that many students would otherwise never know, she said. It also helps students develop close relationships with one another and to function together as a class.
She thanked the Morenci PTO for the financial support and the Morenci Education Foundation and Morenci Kiwanis Club for offering camp scholarships to students in need.
ELIGIBILITY—District resident Curt Hollstein asked the board to review its policy on athletic eligibility in regard to academics. He thinks it’s unfortunate to take away the privilege of athletic participation from a student who is making a strong effort. The discussion arose from the new state requirements calling for four years of mathematics, including algebra II and geometry.
Board president Scott Merillat acknowledged that Morenci’s policy was in place before the math requirements changed.
A discussion started months ago, he said, but the former superintendent left the district and a new athletic director and high school principal were hired. It’s time to return to the issue, he said.
“We need to ask for each individual student, ‘What does this student need to succeed?’” Osborne said.
Once realistic expectations are established, he said, the staff must ensure that teaching is done in a manner to meet the needs of each student—and also have supports in place for students who struggle.
VAN—Stair Public Library board president Sally Kruger thanked the school board for use of a van to transport families to the Prime Time reading program.
Osborne praised the program and said the school district should be proud of its relationships with community organizations.