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Morris Area enrollment expected to climb

By Sue Dieter

Sun Tribune

The Morris Area High School class of 2022 has yet to walk into a classroom and is already making news.

Superintendent Scott Monson informed the Morris Area School Board on Monday that the preliminary numbers show 13 more kindergarten students for the upcoming school year than previously expected.

Monson reported that enrollment in the elementary was at 449 at the end of the 2008-2009 school year. At that time, he had projected enrollment to increase to 469 for the upcoming year. Now, his estimates are for 490 students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

"There's been a lot of movement in the district. There have been some open enrollment requests, too, but there seem to be more families moving into the district," Monson said.

Elementary Principal Brad Korn is expecting approximately 85 kindergarten students for the upcoming year. As a result, Korn suggested that the district should hire an additional kindergarten teacher.

Korn provided six options for the Board to review, ranging from doing nothing to hiring one additional full-time teacher.

Monson explained that the additional students will generate about $40,000 in additional state funding.

Board chair Kurt Gartland said that this is a good problem to have. He also noted that state funding is lower for kindergartners, and stressed that it is important for the district to retain those students throughout high school.

"In this case, it's easy to see the positive impacts of increased enrollment. If we do our job, those students will stay in the school through first, second, third grade and on up. That would have a very positive impact on the district."

Board member Stan Wulf commented that a one year increase doesn't make a trend, but that the increase wasn't an accident either.

"We don't want to loss that momentum," Wulf said in support of an option to add a fulltime teacher.

Wulf was concerned that without the additional teacher, the district would not be able to offer both all day, every day and all day, every other day kindergarten options to families.

Wulf made a motion to hire one additional fulltime teacher and to leave it to Korn's discretion how to best utilize that position in the elementary. The board approved his motion with no dissent.

Board member Mark McNally questioned how long it might be before all-day, every day kindergarten became a state mandate.

Monson replied that while he thinks that's a good idea, "I doubt that I will see it happen during the span of my career."

School board members also talked about, but took no action, on holding a levy referendum this fall.

Monson reminded board members that the current referendum is set to expire in 2012 and in order for the district to renew or increase that, district residents would need to approve it before the end of 2011.

Monson explained that the referendum totals about $300 per pupil, or approximately $250,000.

Monson said that by comparison, Morris has a lower operating levy than most area districts at $686.62 per student. By comparison, Chokio-Alberta's operating levy is $2,500, Herman-Norcross is at $1,327, Hancock's levy is $1,150 and Cyrus has a levy amount of $1,112 per pupil. The state average is $860.

Monson said that if the Board wants to hold a levy referendum in November, they take action by Sept. 11.

Gartland said that they do need to renew the levy and asked the other board members what their thoughts were about the timing of a referendum.

Board member James Solvie suggested that the sooner the better for the vote.

"That way we know we have that money when we're planning."

Board member Lory Lemke agreed, saying he's uncomfortable waiting to the last minute to hold a referendum.

McNally pointed out that if the Board chose to hold a referendum this fall, they would only have a few months to provide information to district residents.

"I think when we decide to hold a referendum, it should be when all of us could vote to support it. I don't think right now that I could vote to support it."

Board member Laura Carrington agreed that there is a lot of economic uncertainty in the community. But she added that it's hard to know whether things will be better in a year.

The board took no formal action on the question of a referendum.

In other action, the board:

-Approved a one-year extension of the agreement for the school resource officer. The position is a shared position with the city's Police Department. The school district's share is $21,107, which is partially funded through the Safe Schools levy.

-Approved a one-year salary freeze for Community Education director Cindy Perkins.

-Voted to rescind the one-year leave of absence for high school teacher Dave Johnson. Johnson had requested the action.

-Learned that the district audit was scheduled for Aug. 31.