By DAVID GREEN
Morenci school administrators were faced with a good news/bad news situation after the annual student count day Oct. 3.
The good news: enrollment went up.
The bad news: it's still well below the level of a year ago.
Morenci started the school year in 2011 with 744 students, but that number dwindled to 707 by the end of the school year. The recent count showed an increase of 13 students to 720—the number that finance director Erica Metcalf used when setting up the budget for the current year.
Enrollment is a major piece of the puzzle explaining school finances, said superintendent Dr. Michael Osborne, and Morenci would have needed a substantial increase in student numbers to prevent a deficit. Instead, the district will use up its cash reserves this year and face a deficit projected at more than $300,000. In the past, the dwindling cash reserves were used to cover the shortfall.
Enrollment isn’t a factor that school officials can control, Osborne said. Instead, administrators need to focus on disciplined spending, salary concessions, program reductions and capital projects.
Concessions are going to the extreme at the Summerfield school district in Petersburg. A deficit reduction plan filed with the state calls for a 15 percent cut in pay for all employees.
Morenci's board of education will consider a contract agreement with three employee groups at the November meeting. That includes food service workers, bus drivers and the district's one custodian at the elementary school. Negotiations with teachers are expected to get underway in the spring.
Another change at the state level could adversely affect Morenci if the situation from last year repeats itself. If a student moves to another district, state funding now goes with the student. In the past, the school where the student was originally enrolled continued to receive funding until a second semester student count created a "blended count" that reduced or increased funding, depending on how enrollment changed.
This year's kindergarten class is six students smaller than a year ago, dropping to 48. The biggest changes from last fall are seen in this year's fourth grade class that lost five students, the sophomore class that lost nine students, and the junior class that lost 10 students. On the other hand, the senior class grew by six students to reach 60—the largest senior class in several years.
The fourth grade is now the smallest class with 41, followed by the juniors with 43.