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Board hears good but early news on budget projections

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Morris Area School Board received some very preliminary good news on Tuesday, with the district facing a much smaller budget deficit that it has in several years.

Superintendent Scott Monson presented early enrollment and budget figures that indicate the district can expect a deficit of about $88,000 for fiscal year 2009.

Total revenue is projected to be $8,268,492 with projected expenditures at $8,356,390.

Enrollment decreases this year haven't been as prominent as has been the norm in previous years. Should those figures remain relatively stable, the budget process may not be as onerous as in the past.

In the last three years, the Morris Area board has approved almost $1.4 million in cuts to erase deficits due mostly to stagnant state funding, rising costs and declining enrollment.

"There are a lot of positives in there," Monson said.

However, with the potential for more cuts looming, the board approved a resolution directing the administration to consider discontinuing programs or positions should reductions be needed.

Enrollment in the district was 907 students as of Feb. 1, just three fewer than at the start of the school year. Typically, the district has seen mid-year enrollment fall by a greater number.

The district's per-student state funding also will increase from $5,074 per student this year to $5,124 per student in 1008-2009.

Monson said he and his staff will continue to track enrollment, and revise the budget accordingly. The district must approve its 2008-2009 budget later this spring.

"It's still a work in progress," Monson said.

Board member Mark McNally, who sits on the board's finance committee, said he is optimistic the projected 2009 deficit will be less than previous years, and he stressed the importance of continuing to reduce the district's deficit.

Board member Brent Fuhrman said he didn't want to dampen the enthusiasm but warned against being too optimistic this early in the budgeting process.

"Let's be wary of what could possibly be on the horizon," he said.

In other board business:

• The board approved refinancing of school building bonds that will save the district about $227,000.

The crossover refunding must result in at least a 3 percent savings before the state will allow it, Monson said.

Financial advisers determined the district would meet that threshold, so the board set a goal of saving $215,000. The final total exceeded that.

Taxpayers will realize the savings beginning in 2014 through 2019, Monson said.

• The board is considering a proposal for block offerings in 7th and 8th grade that would reinstate industrial technology and agriculture classes in those grades.

Now, art, FACS, Spanish and speech are offered in 7th grade and meet for one quarter. In eighth grade, the offerings are art, business, FACS and Spanish.

The new block offerings would add industrial technology to the 7th grade classes, and agriculture to the 8th grade offerings.

The five courses in each grade would be offered in seven-week schedules.

MAHS Principal Mike Coquyt said the offerings would expose students to the industrial tech and ag fields earlier and might lead to increased interest and possibly career paths.

"It will be a little more work to schedule but I think we can make it fly," he said.

• The board congratulated the Morris Math League team for earning a spot in the competition's state event March 10.

Tasaneeya Viratyosin placed first individually in a Feb. 11 meet and the team also placed first overall. David Lemke placed third, and Matt Cotter and Kevin Viratyosin both finished in the top 10.

The Math League Team members include: Jen Buchanan, Mickey Cotter, Patrick Uphoff, Alyssa Uphoff, Jacob Torgerson, Michael Anderson, James Burke, Alisha Hennen, Da Eun Jung, Trevor Hopkins, Stefan Lemke, Ray Finzel, Bess Boever, Thomas Roberts, Jessie Bergerson, Emma Roberts and Carter Rudstrom.