Morenci school board 2014.07.02

By DAVID GREEN

Morenci’s board of education voted Monday to approve a budget for the 2014-15 school year calling for a deficit of $25,000. The shortfall will be covered by the district’s fund balance that is expected to stand at $324,638 at the end of the next fiscal year.

The fund balance is much healthier than what was feared in the past couple of years, but still falls far short of what administrators would like to see.

The current balance represents only about six percent of the budget, said board president Scott Merillat, and the district must place more money into savings. Twenty percent is the desired amount, added superintendent Mike McAran.

The district’s fund balance will become more and more critical, said finance director Erica Metcalf, as the State becomes more involved in all district’s finances.

The budget is based on an enrollment of 680 students. That refers to the “full time equivalency,” Metcalf said, rather than the actual number of students at desks.

Determining enrollment has become increasingly difficult, Metcalf said, as students move around from one district to another much more than in the past. In addition, some students take courses on-line—either completely on-line or in a blended format in which they attend class part of the day.

The district intends to bump up enrollment through the availability of on-line courses and through the return of an alternative education classroom at the high school.

Morenci will receive $175 extra per student in the next school year—$50 from a general increase in state support and $125 “equity” payment given to schools that are at the minimum foundation allowance in an effort to boost funding by the State.

On the other hand, McAran said, $60 is taken away to help cover a shortfall in the state’s retirement fund.

The increase is further eroded by the unusually high utility costs from last winter, an increase estimated at $60 per pupil. An increase in the cost of supplies is pegged at $24 per pupil. In addition, the district faces increased costs from staffing and program changes, including the hiring of a reading specialist at the elementary school.

The board voted to borrow $800,000 to cover a cash-flow problem that typically arises during the summer months until state aid arrives. That’s a decrease from $1.1 million borrowed last year.

Metcalf said her goal is to reduce what the district needs to borrow each year.

“As a finance person, you’re focussed on the bottom line, but collectively, we’ve lost sight of our students in doing that,” Metcalf said.

“There are programs we’re trying to bring back, we’re trying to put technology in their hands, we’re trying to increase student achievement.”

The eye will be on the bottom line, she said, but we really have to focus on our student achievement.

The board approved a budget calling for expenses of $6.285 million, and also approved final budget adjustments for the fiscal year that ended Monday.