Morenci school board 2011.06.08

Written by David Green.


Falling enrollment, drastic cuts in state aid, a huge increase in staff retirement rates—put together, the situation could put Morenci schools in a deficit situation next year, with all reserve funds used up.

District finance director Erica Metcalf gave board of education members an update on school finances Monday now that Gov. Rick Snyder has made his state budget final.

Although enrollment numbers can only be estimated, Metcalf is following the trend experienced here and in most Michigan school districts. She expects to see more students leave the district than move here, and she’s using the figure 721 as her guess for fall enrollment—a drop of 24 students since the official count in February.

State aid includes the $170 per pupil cut made this year and the $300 per pupil cut made for the next school year in the governor’s budget.

Those funding cuts along with the drop in enrollment equates to a loss of $338,000.

An increase in retirement rates will cost the district a sum equal to $281 per pupil, for a total drop in revenue of more than $540,000. Increases in insurance costs could result in a budget shortfall of $1.18 million for the 2011-12 school year—a figure that only grows with each succeeding year.

“That’s by far the largest deficit that we’ve faced since I’ve been here,” Metcalf said.

The shortfall equals the cost of the entire teaching staff of the middle school, with the exception of special education teachers and the half guidance counselor position.

Metcalf doesn’t yet know how it can be overcome.

The deficit will be only partially covered by cash reserves that have fallen over the past decade. In the 1997-98 school year, Morenci had a fund balance of $2.1 million. Budget shortfalls caused that amount to shrink to $823,000 in the 2009-10 school year and currently stands at $523,000.

The district has the opportunity to cancel part of the loss through two incentive programs offered by the state.

“The governor’s cuts are bad,” Metcalf said, “but Morenci has an opportunity to capture up to $200 per child back.”

The first $100 would come through a “best practices” program in which districts would be rewarded for meeting four of five requirements by June 30, 2012.

Metcalf says she isn’t ready to bank on that money because districts have yet to see the details. On the surface, Morenci will have no trouble meeting the requirements largely due to past cost-cutting moves.

The other credit—estimated at $100 per student—is tied into the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, but details are pending.

Both of the credits are one-time allocations for the 2011-12 school year, Metcalf said.

Although the news is bad, said Superintendent of Schools Michael Osborne, he hopes the public will develop some confidence knowing that the board knows what the issues are and is working to make changes.

“We are going to make it through this, just like this district has for years,” he said. “Our obligation is to the community, to make sure that we have a school here that’s providing the best education possible, and as the economy turns, as it always has, that we’re in a position to take advantage of it.”

RECALLS—Teachers Jamie DeVoe and Kelly Bush were called back from layoff for the fall, along with bus driver April Shaffer and cook Ronda McCaskey.

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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