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Published: Wednesday, 7/2/2008

Monroe County school districts scramble to balance budgets

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - With uncertainty lingering over how much state aid their districts will receive from Lansing, school officials of some Monroe County schools tapped savings to balance budget plans submitted to the state for the coming academic year.

The board of educations had until last Monday to approve budgets.

Bedford Public Schools last week approved a $55.6 million budget - the second biggest of the nine school districts in Monroe County - for the 2008-09 school year by taking $775,875 from its rainy day account. A nearly $1.7 million deficit was avoided by making $936,480 in expenditure reductions.

"This will be a challenging year," Ted Magrum, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, told board members.

A $10 fee increase across the board in athletic participation fees was approved for junior high and senior high school students. Mr. Magrum said the higher pay-to-play fees will offset $15,000 in increased costs for athletic programs and tournament fees.

The budget is based on what the district calls a substantial decline in enrollment. Mr. Magrum is projecting about 115 fewer students will be enrolled in the school system when classes begin in August.

Bedford, like other school districts, is waiting to hear figures on the funding that will come from the state. Districts are banking on a $100 to $110 increase per pupil this year.

Among the issues facing Bedford is increasing fuel costs for transportation of students.

"We are facing a very difficult financial crunch," Superintendent Jon White said at the board meeting.

Mason Consolidated approved a plan that called for teacher layoffs and elimination of two of the district's 14 bus routes to fend off a projected $557,000 deficit for the coming school year.

School officials passed a $11.3 million budget in which expenditures would surpass revenue by about $200,000, board Vice President Kent Swick said. Superintendent David Drewyor said the board likely will be asked to make additional adjustments in the coming year to offset the deficit.

In reaction to a declining student population, teaching positions at the middle and elementary schools were eliminated, but school officials hoped to hold the pink slips to one or two teachers through attrition.

Summerfield Schools in Petersburg approved a $6.6 million budget recently that projects spending about $300,000 from the district's fund balance, or money that it has in reserves.

Superintendent Jack Hewitt said the spending plan was achieved by cutting 1 1/2 teaching positions. The 893-student district has cut 7 1/2 teaching positions during the last five years because of declining enrollments, but no pink slips will be given this year.

"Things are not great. But, we are holding are own," Mr. Hewitt said.

The district is projecting an enrollment of 767 pupils, about 25 fewer than last year.

Ida Public Schools approved a $14.9 million budget earlier this week by dipping into the district's savings account to avoid a deficit of about $200,000, a figure that could adjusted, depending on state aid.

No layoffs or deep cuts were planned.

"This is not a good situation to be in. But at this point it is the best job we can do," Superintendent Marv Dick said. "When we get all the numbers for the state, we will try to whittle things down."

Monroe Public Schools, the county's largest district, took no actions to reduce teachers or staff and made no facility changes for the upcoming school years.

School officials made up for a projected $974,703 shortfall in the $60.5 million budget approved last week by dipping into the district's fund balance. The deficit was roughly the same amount that the 6,700-student school system had last year.

"Despite fuel costs increases of nearly 25 percent, a 7 percent jump in health-care costs, and another 5 percent increase in supplies and material costs, we were able to hold close to last year's budget," Superintendent David Taylor said.

Whiteford Agricultural Schools, the smallest of the county's nine districts, approved a $7.1 million budget for next year based on projections of 754 students, five fewer than last year. The board approved spending $537,000 from its savings to meet projected expenditures.



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