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

  • 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.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.carry.casket
    CARRYING—Riley Terry (blue jacket) and Mason Vaughn lead the way, carrying an empty casket outside to the hearse waiting at the curb. Morenci juniors and seniors visited Eagle Funeral Home last week to learn about the role of a funeral director and to understand the process of arranging for a funeral.
  • Front.lift
    MORENCI student Dalton McCowan puts everything into a dead lift attempt Saturday morning during the Wyseguy Push/Pull event. Lifters helped raise more than $1,600 for the family of the late Devin Wyse, a former Morenci power-lifter who graduated last year. Commemorative T-shirts are still available by contacting teacher Dan Hoffman.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.F.office
    NEW OFFICES—Fayette village administrator Steve Blue speaks with tax administrator Genna Biddix at the new front desk of the village office. Village council members voted to use budgeted renovation funds targeted for the old office and instead buy the vacant bank building on the corner of Main and Fayette streets. The old office was sold to Sherwood State Bank. When everything is put into place in the spacious new village office, an open house will be scheduled. Council member David Wheeler donated all of his time needed to make changes in the bank interior to fit the Village’s needs.

School should finish year in black 2013.01.30

Written by David Green.

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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