By DAVID GREEN
Michigan's Proposal A tax reform is now 20 years old, but the change still hasn't accomplished its goal.
Proposal A was designed to bridge the gap between rich and poor school districts, said Morenci's finance director Erica Metcalf.
"Some progress was made," she said, "but there's still a ways to go. If you are a Madison student, you are actually worth more money."
The Madison district, with a much higher tax base, received $7,775 for each child about 10 years ago, while Morenci received $6,700. Madison is expected to receive $8,575 next year while Morenci will stand at $7,187. With Morenci's enrollment, that's a difference of nearly a million dollars.
The state is expected to increase funding next year by 1.5 percent despite expected cost increases in many areas. In November, the board approved a budget update looking at a deficit of $85,000, Metcalf said.
"As of today, we're ahead of the curve," she said. "We're still looking at a deficit, but I have to commend the staff. They've done an excellent job of simply not spending funds unless we need it."
In addition to a differing tax base, Madison—once of the smallest districts in the county—has witnessed explosive growth through the School of Choice option with hundreds of students leaving Adrian to attend the smaller Madison school.
Morenci, on the other hand, has lost students through the years. Enrollment exceeded 1,000 students in the early 1990s and stood at 851 five years ago. Enrollment this fall had shrunk to 685. Without Schools of Choice, Morenci would still be larger than Sand Creek, but that district also attracts a large number of Adrian students.
Looking a year down the road, Metcalf said, the district could be looking at a deficit of about $100,000 if funding remained steady.
"Financially speaking, what do we do to revitalize Morenci?" Metcalf asked. "How do we get kids back here?"
The School Improvement Team is making good progress toward that end, she said.
Morenci Elementary School principal Gail Frey told the board that a Head Start classroom will be operating in the elementary school in the next school year. It's an excellent use of money and space, she said, because it will lead to children who are better prepared for school.
The goal is to work with children early, she said, to address problems such as motor skills and social interaction—difficulties that some children have when entering kindergarten. The state education department is strongly supporting early intervention, she said, realizing the benefits of early childhood education as a means of spending less on them at an older age.
Head Start is free to qualifying children.
The YMCA will operate a Latchkey program in the district for before and after school care for working parents. Frey said 85 parents responded to a survey seeking an opinion on a Latchkey program and half of them stated they would use it.
The program wouldn't bring much funding to the school, she said, but that isn't the purpose.
"It provides parents a service at this district," she said, "and it could bring students back to this district."
McAran reviewed state test scores with the board, pointing out the mix of high and low results. In some cases, scores start out high at the lower grades and fall later.
“It’s not a fact that teachers don’t teach and students don’t learn,” he said. “You need to figure out the problem and address it.”
For example, he intends to use Title I funding to hire a pair of reading specialists to work with staff members. Good reading skills are needed in all facets of testing, including mathematics.
Morenci has the extra challenge produced through a number of rental units in the city, McAran said. Many students come and go. Some students taking the ACT test as juniors weren’t educated in the district earlier and may not be prepared.
Frey noted that a considerable amount of learning can be lost when a child changes schools. In addition, not all schools present information at the same time and the total picture of a particular topic may not be encountered when switching districts.
“We’re not making excuses,” she said. “We just need to figure out how to get them back up to speed quickly.”