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Morris Area to add fourth grade section, ELL hours for '13 - '14

MORRIS – Morris Area Elementary School will add an additional section of fourth grade and increase staff support for English language learners for the 2013 – 2014 school year, despite a preliminary projected deficit of more than $260,000.

At their meeting Monday, the board reviewed a preliminary budget drafted by the district Finance Committee and made decisions on these two key staffing items.

There are currently 85 students in four sections of third grade at MAES. Enrollment for forth grade in 2013 – 2014 is projected to increase slightly. By adding another section of fourth grade, class sizes should be kept at approximately 21 students, board chairman Kurt Gartland said.

The board also added 10 hours per week for an English Language Learners teaching position.

“As we have more and more students that don't speak English as their primary language, that just puts more pressure on the teachers,” said Gartland. “That's a sign of the times that we have. It's not necessarily a bad thing, we just need to be aware of it.”

However, the district still faces a preliminary budget deficit of between $230,000 and $266,000, depending on considerations like staffing, a potential increase in state funding and costs associated with the potential consolidation with the Cyrus school district.

“There are a lot of additional items that we talked about adding, but based on the overall deficit we felt these were the most important things we had to do for the students,” said Dick Metzger, a member of the finance committee. 

The preliminary budget presented Tuesday does not include requests made throughout the year like more time for counseling, custodians, music and physical education.

“Long term, we do need to change where we're at financially – there's no question when we have that big of a deficit,” said Gartland, adding that other districts are facing similar budget issues.

“We can't keep doing this,” concurred school board member Brent Fuhrman. “I'd love to just deficit spend and throw caution to the wind and keep doing what we're doing, but we know we can't keep doing that. I'm in favor of this motion – that's where I believe we need to spend our money – but we have to look at this closer.”

The board will approve a final budget at a future meeting.

School year extended to June 5 for students

The Morris Area School District will add instruction days to the end of the year to make up for weather-related cancellations rather than extend individual school days.

The last day of school for seniors will still be Friday, May 31, but all other students will be in class until Wednesday, June 5.

At Tuesday's meeting principals Ken Gagner and Craig Peterson and members of the board said they would not want to add any required days for students or teachers past Friday, June 7 even if more days need to be made up.

Other business

• Morris Area High School Principal Craig Peterson told the board he has been meeting with staff, students and parents to update the high school handbook.

“I keep notes throughout the year of the little thorns that we've had throughout the year [that] we need to change going into next year” that are presented to the various groups for consideration, Peterson explained.

Peterson said he plans to bring recommended changes to the board in May.

• The board moved spring 2014 parent-teacher conferences from Thursday, April 10 to Tuesday, April 8 to avoid conflicts with several previously scheduled activities.