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.splash
    Water Fun—Carter Seitz and Colson Walter take a fast trip along a plastic sliding strip while water from a sprinkler provides the lubrication. The boys took a break from tie-dyeing last week at Morenci’s Summer Recreation Program to cool off in the water.
  • Front.starting
    BIKE-A-THON—Children in Morenci’s Summer Recreation Program brought their bikes last Tuesday to participate in a bike-a-thon. Riders await the start of the event at the elementary school before being led on a course through town by organizer Leonie Leahy.
  • Front.pokemon
    LATEST CRAZE—David Cortes (left) and Ty Kruse, along with Jerred Heselschwerdt (standing), consult their smartphones while engaging in the game of Pokémon Go. The virtual scavenger hunt comes to life when players are in the vicinity of gyms, such as Stair District Library, and PokéStops such as the fire station across the street. The boys had spent time Monday morning searching for Pokémon at Wakefield Park.
  • Front.drum
    on your mark, get set, drum!—Drew Joughin (black shirt), Maddox Joughin and Kaleea Braun took the front row last week when Angela Rettle and assistants led the Stair District Library Summer Reading Program kids in a session of cardio drumming. The sports and healthy living theme continued yesterday with a Mini Jamboree at Lake Hudson State Park arranged by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Next week’s program features the Flying Aces Frisbee show.
  • Girls.on.ride
    NADIYA YORK and Aniston Valentine take a spin on the Casino, one of the rides offered at Wakefield Park during Morenci’s Town and Country Festival. This year’s festival remained dry but with plenty of heat during the three-day run. Additional photographs are inside this week’s Observer.
  • Front.softball
    Angela Davis (2) and teammate Allison VanBrandt break into a jig after Morenci's softball team won its third consecutive regional title.
  • Front.art.park
    ART PARK—A design created by Poggemeyer Design Group shows a “pocket art park” in the green space south of the State Line Observer building. The proposal includes a 12-foot sculpture based on a design created by Morenci sixth grade student Klara Wesley through a school and library collaboration. A wooden band shell is located at the back of the lot. The Observer wall would be covered with a synthetic stucco material. City council members are considering ways to fund the estimated $125,000 project and perhaps tackling construction one step at a time.
  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.

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