Morenci school board 2011.06.08

Written by David Green.

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.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • 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.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.

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