The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

  • Snow.2
    FIRST SNOW—Heavy, wet flakes piled deep on tree branches—and windshields—as the area received its first significant snowfall of the season. “Usually it begins with a dusting or two,” said George Isobar, Morenci’s observer for the National Weather Service, “but this time it came with a vengeance.” By the end of the day Saturday, a little over four inches of snow was on the ground. Now comes the thaw with temperatures in the 40s and 50s for three days.
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    SKEWERS, gumdrops, and marshmallows are all that’s needed to create interesting shapes and designs for Layla McDowell Saturday at Stair District Library’s “Sculptamania!” Open House. The program featuring design games and materials is one part of a larger project funded by a $7,500 Curiosity Creates grant from Disney and the American Library Association. Additional photos are on page 7.
    Morenci marching band members took to the field Friday night dressed for Halloween during the Bulldog’s first playoff game. Morenci fans had a bit of a scare until the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs scored 30 points to leave Lenawee Christian School behind. Whiteford visits Morenci this Friday for the district championship game. From the left is Clayton Borton, Morgan Merillat and James O’Brien.
    DNA PUZZLE—Mitchell Storrs and Wyatt Mohr tackle a puzzle representing the structure of DNA. There’s only one correct way for all the pieces to fit. It’s one of the new materials that can be used in both biology and chemistry classes, said teacher Loretta Cox.
  • Front.tar.wide
    A TRAFFIC control worker stands in the middle of Morenci’s Main Street Tuesday morning, waiting for the next flow of vehicles to be let through from the west. The dusty gravel surface was sealed with a layer of tar, leaving only the application of paint for new striping. The project was completed in conjunction with county road commission work west of Morenci.
  • Front.pull
    JUNIORS Jazmin Smith and Trevor Corkle struggle against a team from the sophomore class Friday during the annual tug of war at the Homecoming Games pep rally. Even the seniors struggled against the sophomores who won the competition. At the main course of the day, the Bulldog football team struggled against Whiteford in a homecoming loss.
    YOUNG soccer players surived a chilly morning Saturday in Morenci’s PTO league. From the left is Emma Cordts, Wayne Corser, Carter and Levi Seitz, Briella York and Drew Joughin. Two more weeks of soccer remain for this season.
  • Front.ropes
    BOWEN BAUMGARTNER of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge constructed by the Tecumseh Boy Scout troop Sunday at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The bridge was one of many challenges, displays and games set up for the annual Youth Jamboree by the Michigan DNR. Additional photos on are the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.homecoming Court
    One of four senior candidates will be crowned the fall homecoming queen during half-time of this week’s Morenci-Whiteford football game. In the back row (left to right) is exchange student Kinga Vidor (her escort will be Caylob Alcock), seniors Alli VanBrandt (escorted by Sam Cool), Larissa Elliott (escorted by Clayton Borton), Samantha Wright (escorted by JJ Elarton) and Justis McCowan (escorted by Austin Gilson), and exchange student Rebecca Rosenberger (escorted by Garrett Smith). Front row freshman court member Allie Kaiser (escorted by Anthony Thomas), sophomore Marlee Blaker (escorted by Nate Elarton) and junior Cheyenne Stone (escorted by Dominick Sell).
  • Front.park.lights
    GETTING READY—Jerad Gleckler pounds nails to secure a string of holiday lights on the side of the Wakefield Park concession stand while other members of the Volunteer Club and others hold them in place. The volunteers showed up Sunday afternoon to string lights at the park. The decorating project will continue this Sunday. Denise Walsh is in charge of the effort this year.
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School should finish year in black 2013.01.30

Written by David Green.


One crisis averted; more on the horizon.

Morenci Area Schools is now out of deficit for the current school year and should have a fund equity of about $108,000 to start the next year. A cash shortfall is expected to come up again in the 2013-14 school year unless significant changes in school operation are made.

District finance director Erica Metcalf initially projected a deficit of $325,000 when the 2013-14 budget was approved last June. The deficit dropped to $118,000 by August following a two percent pay cut taken by teachers, and when school board members met for the January meeting, the general fund deficit was down to $83,000.

Metcalf spoke about the arrival of unexpected property tax revenue and an insurance claim settlement, and she mentioned an impending change in special education reimbursement. She hoped that additional revenue could bring the district out of the red by the end of the school year, but it happened much sooner than that.

During a Finance Committee meeting last week, Metcalf gave additional information about special education funding that tipped the balance and brought the district into the black.

School board president Scott Merillat said administrators put a lot of time into trimming expenses, but then took a closer look at revenue to determine if some had been underestimated.

The biggest change came in how the Lenawee ISD is reimbursing for special education costs this year. In the past, he said, reimbursement was based on                  expenses, but this year the formula followed a per pupil basis.

"For us that worked out to be a huge advantage," Merillat said, "since we had cut our costs."

The new model favors districts that run a leaner program, explained Morenci superintendent Michael Osborne. 

"Districts that were spending more were getting more in return," he said.

The change resulted in $150,000 of revenue that wasn't budgeted.

Climbing back into the black will remove the need to file a deficit elimination plan with the state.

"We were able to fix the problem rather than having to explain how we were going to get out of it," Merillat said.

Budgeting is always a challenge, he said, because a spending plan has to be established before enrollment and state support are known, and when certain costs are still unknown.

"It worked out really well and solved our short-term need," Merillat said.

"We're still spending more than we're taking in and that can't continue," Osborne added. "If nothing changes, we would be in a structural deficit next year"—a position where the debt could not be erased.

The recent funding change took away the urgency to make changes for the current school year, Merillat said, but the district can't operate the same way in the next school year.

"We want to put together a comprehensive, long-range plan during the next two or three months," he said.

Board members, staff and administrators have looked at cuts over recent years, but Merillat said it's time to look beyond that and consider how staff members will be used and where they will be placed. Other than some retire/rehire situations, the district’s operating model is essentially the same as when there were 1,000 pupils instead of the current 720, Merillat said.

Supt. Osborne is one of six finalists to lead the Tecumseh school district, forcing board members to think about Morenci's superintendent post should it need to be filled. The board must consider whether it’s best to share a superintendent between two districts, as is currently done with Hudson, or whether the district would be better served by a superintendent who also functions as a building principal. Several other positions—including the athletic director, technology coordinator, transportation supervisor, maintenance supervisor, business office and principals—are all among the jobs to think about, Merillat suggested.

BOND ISSUE—Osborne said the bond proposal effort continues to move forward at the state level. Meetings will be scheduled in the future to collect ideas from staff and community members for ways to cut costs and for maintenance ideas that would be addressed by the bond issue.

A preliminary look at maintenance needs offers a positive picture for the levy.

"I was very pleased when we learned the cost of what's needed can be done without raising taxes," Osborne said.

Rather than create a new tax, the board will ask voters to extend the millage already in place.

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